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Scott P. Richert

The Suffering Servant

By July 31, 2008

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One of the great ironies of the P.Z. Myers controversy is that it has revealed how literal-minded and intellectually cramped Myers and his followers are. In the comments on my post "Hoc Est Enim Corpus Meum," one of Myers' admirers (echoing Myers' own comments and the comments of hundreds of people on Myers' blog) writes that Myers desecrated a consecrated Host:

To show that it's just a piece of bread, of course. I mean, he wasn't struck down by lightning, it didn't bleed, the earth didn't tremble, the stars didn't fall from the skies. Nothing happened, just as one would expect if the eucharist [sic] were simply a piece of bread and not, as a lot of people apparently believe, a god.

Myers claimed to be striking a blow in favor of rationality, but this is one of the most irrational remarks I've ever read. To see why, however, those who subscribe to Myers' atheism have to be willing to entertain the reality of the historical narrative of Christ's life, if only for the sake of argument. Let's suppose that the Christian narrative is entirely true. God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son to die to save mankind from its sins. Christ, in His three years of public ministry, was repeatedly persecuted, and His life and liberty were threatened on several occasions.

The last week of His life began with a triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and ended with betrayal, scourging, a crowning with thorns, a long, painful walk to Calvary carrying the instrument of His own execution, and finally the Crucifixion itself. Hanging on the Cross, waiting for the consummation of His mission, Christ endured the ridicule of the very people whom He came to save. At the end of three hours of exceeding pain, He gave up the ghost.

Let's also assume that Christ is, indeed, the Son of God, the second person of the Blessed Trinity. That means that, at any point, He could have brought an end to the torture. In the Gospel narratives, He even says as much, when He mentions that His kingdom is not of this world. The bystanders taunt Him, asking why He doesn't come down off of the Cross if He is Who He says He is.

And yet He didn't. He endured it all, we are told, for the love of mankind, and for our redemption. Again, Myers and his ilk don't need to believe this (unless, of course, they wish to be saved); they simply need to grant it briefly for the sake of argument.

Then grant, finally, that Christ meant what He said when He took the bread and declared, "This is My Body," and the cup and said, "This is My Blood." And then go back at look at the commenter's naive remark I quoted above.

How would we expect the same Christ Who "stood silent, and opened not His mouth" while enduring the pain and humiliation of the Crucifixion to react to Professor Myers' infantile attack on the Eucharist? By striking Myers down with lightning? By making the earth tremble and the stars fall from the skies? By making the Host bleed, so that Myers would have no choice but to believe?

Of course not. Only a child would think so. And yet Myers and the commenter and the thousands of people who raised a glass to Myers' act of desecration claim that, because none of these things happened, Myers "proved" that the Host is merely a piece of bread and not the Body of Christ.

Where's the rationality in that? Who has fallen prey to an unthinking faith here? The sad fact is that Myers has shown himself not to be an empirical scientist, but an ideologue who is so hellbent on disproving the claims of faith that he has "joyfully and with laughter in my heart" ignored the very logic that he claims to hold dear.

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Comments
July 31, 2008 at 2:23 pm
(1) Kees says:

YOUR NUTS

July 31, 2008 at 2:25 pm
(2) Scott P. Richert says:

Thanks, Kees, for proving my point more perfectly than I ever could.

July 31, 2008 at 3:31 pm
(3) Tom Piatak says:

Beautifully put, Scott. Myers and the other new atheists essentially know nothing about Christian theology, and they advertise their ignorance on a regular basis.

August 1, 2008 at 12:15 am
(4) Joe says:

Well done. Thank you.

August 1, 2008 at 12:58 pm
(5) Nancy says:

Great post, Scott. Thank you.

August 1, 2008 at 2:15 pm
(6) Peter Irving says:

Great Post, and to the antitheist who posted here, how is this man “nuts” as you say? I mean that is a term usually used to imply that someone is insane, what proof do you have that this man is insane?

August 1, 2008 at 2:30 pm
(7) ThirtyFiveUp says:

There never have been and never will be any gods.

There never have been and never will be any fairies.

There is no heaven and no hell. They are also poetic constructs.

This life is all we will ever have. Be kind to one another and to the Earth while you are here.

August 4, 2008 at 1:20 pm
(8) JoAnna says:

This life is all we will ever have. Be kind to one another and to the Earth while you are here.

… why? If this life is all we have, what’s the point of being kind to anyone, or the Earth? Why shouldn’t I be able to do whatever I want, to whoever I want, whenever I want?

August 4, 2008 at 2:16 pm
(9) arensb says:

I know exactly what you mean. Just last week, a friend of mine took my official Paramount authorized Star Trek Communicator (™), switched it to the emergency channel, and called Captain Kirk a coward. He said that the reason Kirk didn’t reply is that Star Trek is fiction (it’s not just Star Trek, by the way: he thinks Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, Buffy, etc. are all just fiction as well).

Then I told him, if you grant for the sake of argument that Star Trek is real. Recall, then, episode 71, “Whom Gods Destroy”, in which Kirk and Spock beam down to an insane asylum with an inmate who can change shape to look like anyone. At the end, Kirk couldn’t trust anyone, not even his best friend Spock (and a good thing, too, since the inmate was impersonating Spock). That’s why he set up the challenge/response password before leaving the Enterprise.

How could we expect this same James Kirk, who has enemies everywhere, to answer every two-bit punk who manages to get his hands on a Communicator? Insult him back? Beam down and punch him out? Send the Enterprise to shoot phasers from orbit?

Of course not. Only a child would think so. And yet, my friend and the people who laughed at me claim that since Kirk didn’t answer, that “proved” that Star Trek is fiction. Who has fallen prey to an unthinking faith here?

August 4, 2008 at 2:40 pm
(10) Scott P. Richert says:

arensb, you’re too clever by half. Your little allegory simply highlights the fact that, over the course of 2,000 years, a couple billion people, including a few men and women who were, perhaps, even more intelligent than you (shocking, I know), actually accepted the historical account of Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection. To compare that to a TV show that only someone of limited intelligence could think of as real is silly at best.

But, for the sake of argument, let’s grant your allegory. Fact is, at the end, you haven’t by your action proved that Star Trek is fiction. You know it’s fiction, and I know it’s fiction, because we know the history. Your action adds nothing to, nor subtracts anything from, what we already know.

And that’s precisely the point with P.Z. Myers’ “experiment.” Just because, in your mind and his, if there were a God, He would have to smite Myers for what he did doesn’t make it so. That’s why I referred to the historical record of Christ’s life. Nothing Myers did added to or subtracted from what we know of Christ, and therefore, he “proved” nothing.

August 4, 2008 at 9:07 pm
(11) arensb says:

the fact that, over the course of 2,000 years, a couple billion people, including a few men and women who were, perhaps, even more intelligent than you (shocking, I know), actually accepted the historical account of Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection.

If you think the argument from popularity is valid, then consider that two thirds of the Earth’s population doesn’t believe that Jesus is the one and only god. And furthermore, five sixths of the population think that Catholics are wrong in one way or another.

But I assume that it doesn’t bother you that five billion people think you’re wrong: no matter how many people believe something doesn’t make it true (or false).

However, what’s more troubling is this: I’ve read your post three or four times, and I can’t shake the feeling that you actually believe that a piece of bread is a living, sentient being, and that if someone were to stab that piece of bread, an actual being would feel it, in the same way that I would feel it if someone stabbed me.

But that can’t be right. Not in an industrial nation in the 21st century. So perhaps you can clarify.

August 4, 2008 at 10:52 pm
(12) Scott P. Richert says:

It’s not the “argument from popularity”; it’s the question of the historicity of Christ’s life, attested to by his contemporaries and accepted, not simply on faith but on evidence, by a few billion more people over the course of 2,000 years. That, despite your attempts to ridicule it, is something far different from a deluded or dimwitted person becoming convinced that Star Trek is real.

As for “a piece of bread is a living, sentient being,” no one’s ever said that. First, because it is no longer bread, but the Body of Christ (merely retaining the accidents of bread); second, because in being the Body of Christ, it does not take on some sort of life of its own, which is what “a living, sentient being” would mean. We would not make such claims about the constituent parts of our own body, but only about our body as a whole.

On the other hand, would Christ feel pain if a consecrated Host were stabbed? Why not? Such pain might not even be physical but simply the sorrow He feels at the ingratitude of those for whom He gave His life so that they might live.

And finally, “Not in an industrial nation in the 21st century” made my day. I never cease to be amazed that the most die-hard rationalists are also the ones who are most likely to fall for the modern myth of progress. We Christians, on the other hand, tend to be immune–at least those of us who still believe in Original Sin (a phenomenon of which history provides abundant empirical evidence).

August 4, 2008 at 11:46 pm
(13) arensb says:

the historicity of Christ’s life, attested to by his contemporaries and accepted, not simply on faith but on evidence

Evidence like… what?

Original Sin (a phenomenon of which history provides abundant empirical evidence).

Could you please present some of this evidence?

August 5, 2008 at 4:33 am
(14) Anthony says:

To arensb;
To answer your questions you might want to take up theology. Perhaps after a few years of study (and even a half hearted attempt to pray) you might be graced with insight that would astound you! I have seen you post here several times.
If you really want answers to your questions it is going to take more effort than you seem willing to expend. As St. Augustine said (in different words, but I believe he meant the same thing).
It is through the GIFT of Faith that I have come to understand. Not through understanding that I have come to have Faith.

August 5, 2008 at 5:51 am
(15) JamesH says:

“Evidence like… what?”

Historical-critical, literary and archaeological. The gospels are better attested by near-contemporary accounts than Caear’s Gallic Wars, Homer’s Iliad, and the classical Roman poets – yet no-one disputes their authenticity.

“Could you please present some of this evidence?”

Obviously not a parent of small children, then. Human evil is present and possible from an age when you’re not even aware of it. The urge to hurt or destroy that which stops the satisfaction of your desire is, alas, universal.

You might think you never do anything wrong, but anyone you live or work with will tell you otherwise.

August 5, 2008 at 11:01 am
(16) PATTY says:

IF CHRIST WAS LIKE MYERS, MR. MYERS WOULD BE
DEAD NOW. IGNORE PEOPLE LIKE HIM, HE HAS HIS OPINION WE KNOW WHAT IS TRUTH.
GOD BLESS YOU ALL EVEN MYERS

August 5, 2008 at 11:51 am
(17) arensb says:

Anthony:

To answer your questions you might want to take up theology.

No, thanks. From what I’ve seen, theology consists mainly of a) assuming certain propositions (e.g., that the Quran, or Bhagvad Gita, or the Bible is true), then working out what follows from that; kind of like the guy who compared all of the Star Trek:TNG episodes to the Enterprise blueprints and worked out which door on the bridge leads to the bathroom. And b) coming up with excuses for the lack of evidence for the propositions assumed above, which is what Scott did in this article.

Now, if there were any actual evidence for a god/gods/soul/spirit/supernatural anything, that’d be different.

[quoting Augustine:]

It is through the GIFT of Faith that I have come to understand. Not through understanding that I have come to have Faith.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t he saying that if you assume that a god exists, you’ll see evidence of that god? Doesn’t that strike you as being backwards?

Besides, why is faith a good thing?

August 5, 2008 at 12:31 pm
(18) Jon W says:

From what I’ve seen, theology consists mainly of a) assuming certain propositions (e.g., that the Quran, or Bhagvad Gita, or the Bible is true), then working out what follows from that

Um, that’s what all thought is. There’s no proof for the basic propositions of geometry or arithmetic or physics. We assume them and see what follows. If what follows doesn’t fit the evidence, then we go back and adjust our basic propositions.

So … sure, religious faith assumes certain things and sees what follows, just like science. The problem is that science deals with comparatively simple matters like quantum mechanics, whereas religion deals with somewhat more complicated matters like why people do what they do. (Religion also includes quantum mechanics, too, which just makes it all even more complicated.)

But in any case, to assume that reality is as simple and limited as the mathematical relationships between material abstractions like “particles” or “strings” or even the more complicated interactions of types acted upon by natural selection or what-have-you is kind of myopic.

August 5, 2008 at 1:09 pm
(19) arensb says:

JamesH:

Historical-critical, literary and archaeological.

Such as what?

The gospels are better attested by near-contemporary accounts than Caear’s Gallic Wars, Homer’s Iliad, and the classical Roman poets

Which accounts are these? Also, what exactly do they support? I ask because I’ve seen people use historical documents saying that there are Christians in Judea to try to support the idea that there was a man named Jesus who performed miracles. That sort of thing is obviously bogus.

Now, I’ll grant the existence of an itinerant preacher named Yeshua in or around Judea around 30 CE, who was executed by the authorities. That’s not an extraordinary claim. But where’s the evidence that he performed miracles or came back from the dead?

The gospels were written decades after the alleged miracles, and we know (from Scientology, Elvis sightings, Roswell, cargo cults, etc.) that weird legends and religions can spring up in that amount of time. Occam’s Razor says that “legend” is a better explanation than “miracle”.

Josephus’s oft-cited “Testimonium Flavianum”, aside from being widely-regarded as a forgery, doesn’t even claim to be either contemporary with Jesus’ life, or an eyewitness account.

Then there are the missing accounts where you would expect there to be some. Where are the extrabiblical accounts of the dead rising from their graves and appearing to many people? Why does the author of Matthew talk about Herod’s mass infanticide, and none of Herod’s political enemies?

In short, I’ll grant you a religious leader and the beginning of a new religion. But if you claim that anything miraculous happened, that’s a much bigger claim, and requires a lot more evidence to be accepted. Does this evidence exist? And if not, why do you believe the claims of miraculous events?

August 5, 2008 at 1:30 pm
(20) Tony says:

arensb sez:

Of course not. Only a child would think so. And yet, my friend and the people who laughed at me claim that since Kirk didn’t answer, that “proved” that Star Trek is fiction. Who has fallen prey to an unthinking faith here?

Exactly. By your little experiment, you did not prove that Star Trek is fiction (notwithstanding that it actually is).

You have proven Scott’s point.

August 5, 2008 at 1:49 pm
(21) Jon W says:

In short, I’ll grant you a religious leader and the beginning of a new religion. But if you claim that anything miraculous happened, that’s a much bigger claim, and requires a lot more evidence to be accepted. Does this evidence exist? And if not, why do you believe the claims of miraculous events?

You’re never going to find incontrovertible physical evidence for a miracle, since it is by definition a one-time event for which some sort of material happenstance can always be proffered as an explanation.

The evidence of Jesus’ resurrection has to do with,

a. the reliability of the literature involved (the gospels) and their non-resemblance to typical fabulous literature of that time or any time;

b. the fact that events are included in the accounts that would actually be damning to a straight-up lie or fable from the time and therefore indicate that they were included because they were true, like

(i) the testimony of women, or
(ii) that at the resurrection appearances of Christ, not all the people who saw him were absolutely convinced it was him ["Then they worshiped him but some doubted."]

c. the psychological unlikeliness of the disciples stealing Christ’s body (or treating a resuscitation as a resurrection) and consequently basing the rest of their lives upon and undergoing torture and execution for a lie, a goofy deception. (It would make more sense if the apostles became 1st century televangelists and had Roman Lear Jets and such, but they really didn’t. It kind of sucked being a Christian leader at the time.)

There’s lots more evidence in books that are devoted to the subject, if you’re interested.

However, if you’ve decided to rule miracles out of hand, and take it on faith that there’s absolutely no such thing as a supernatural and never has been nor ever will be, then I don’t think you’re going to find any evidence convincing. But I don’t understand where you got that article of faith: that the universe is all that is, all that was, and all that ever will be. Why do you think that?

August 5, 2008 at 2:56 pm
(22) Clement Uzo Chukwudifu says:

Thanks a lot, Scott. You’ve done well. What’s the use arguing with these people? They are like the empiricists who go looking for life in a frog by slaughtering it first. They fail to realise that they have driven life away from the frog before the experiment. I wonder what Myers expected to find by stabbing the Eucharist. Christ was never a magician and a show man at that. All these doubters will never be convinced of the Eucharist because they never had the foundation: “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” One cannot expect more from these so-called rationalists and empiricists. Christ walked on the face of the earth; He was crucified; and He rose from the dead. This is our faith.

August 5, 2008 at 8:00 pm
(23) arensb says:

Jon W:

There’s no proof for the basic propositions of geometry or arithmetic or physics. We assume them and see what follows. If what follows doesn’t fit the evidence, then we go back and adjust our basic propositions.

I’ve highlighted an important part of what you said. Yes, and that’s half the point. The other half is that scientists explicitly list the sorts of evidences that would invalidate a hypothesis (one classic example being JBS Haldane’s answer to the question of what would constitute evidence against evolution: “fossil rabbits in the Precambrian”), and actively seek it out.

Religious apologists, as a rule, don’t do that. Rather, like Scott, above, they come up with excuses why a particular experiment should fail to disprove the hypothesis. (Carl Sagan’s essay The Dragon in My Garage is quite apropos. Go read it.)

Can you name any apologists who have renounced the argument from first cause in light of the discovery by quantum physicists of uncaused causes? Have psychological and neurological experiments with stroke (and other brain damage) victims caused a revolution in the way that souls are viewed?

whereas religion deals with somewhat more complicated matters like why people do what they do.

Then theologians should be very interested in findings in psychology, sociology, and neurobiology. But that doesn’t seem to be the case, in my experience.

But in any case, to assume that reality is as simple and limited as the mathematical relationships between material abstractions like “particles” or “strings” or even the more complicated interactions of types acted upon by natural selection or what-have-you is kind of myopic.

Okay, I’ll accept that. But at the same time, assuming that there’s something else without good evidence is foolish. So I ask again: where’s your evidence?

A good example might be dark matter: if you’d asked me ten or fifteen years ago, I would have told you that the universe is almost certainly composed solely of ordinary matter (including such things as photons and quarks as ordinary matter). But now there’s good evidence that there’s another kind of “stuff” that makes up a substantial fraction of everything in the cosmos. (There’s also talk of “dark energy”, but as far as I know, it hasn’t been demonstrated, or even very well defined.)

But I suspect that the “stuff” you say it would be myopic to exclude is something else. I’m open to the possibility that it exists. Where’s the evidence?

August 5, 2008 at 8:45 pm
(24) arensb says:

Jon W:

You’re never going to find incontrovertible physical evidence for a miracle, since it is by definition a one-time event for which some sort of material happenstance can always be proffered as an explanation.

Maybe not incontrovertible, but it is certainly possible to imagine miracles for which there is convincing evidence.

Imagine, for instance, that one day every Bible in the world starts glowing. It doesn’t matter where it’s located, what it’s made of, or which language it’s in. If you tear out a page out of your Bible, it stops glowing. If you tape the page back in, it starts glowing again.

To me, that would constitute a miracle. It’s conceivable that someone might come up with a good explanation for this phenomenon that didn’t involve the supernatural (though I can’t imagine what it might be), but I bet it would be fascinating, and destroy a lot of what we think we know about how the universe operates.

Or what if an amputee spontaneously regrew a limb?

Here’s a useful exercise: imagine what would convince you that Mohammed went to heaven on a flying horse, or that Thor drank a fraction of the Atlantic, or that Siddhartha Gautama created a golden bridge in the air using only his mind. Having imagined what might convince you that these events happened (or are likely to have happened), is there any similarly-compelling evidence for, say, the resurrection of Jesus? (Or for transubstantiation, since that’s ostensibly the topic of this thread.)

The evidence of Jesus’ resurrection has to do with,

a. the reliability of the literature involved [...]

Come on, you’ve got to admit that that’s pretty thin gruel. Surely, in 2000 years of searching, you could’ve come up with something better. If “non-resemblance to typical [...] literature of that time” is a criterion, why not include The Lord of the Rings or Fight Club?

b. the fact that events are included in the accounts that would actually be damning

I’ll grant that there are elements of the gospel stories that argue for them being based on a kernel of reality. Things like “dying for our sins” could easily be a way of rationalizing away the fact that the supposed messiah got himself killed like a common criminal.

Likewise, the absurd notion of requiring everyone to travel to their birthplace for a census may have been a way of rationalizing why the supposed messiah was from Nazareth, even though he was supposed to be from Bethlehem.

But this is far from conclusive, especially when you consider that storytellers often include odd elements to make their stories more realistic. I’ve seen chain email messages that included links to snopes.com to prove that they’re true. (Invariably, the links provided turn out not to support the claims made in the message, but sometimes the Snopes article describes an incident similar enough that one can charitably imagine that whoever put the link in simply made a mistake.)

And in any case, here you’re using the Bible to prove the Bible, which is circular reasoning.

c. the psychological unlikeliness of the disciples stealing Christ’s body [...]

How do you know how the disciples lived or died? If you say “the Bible”, then you’re engaging in circular reasoning.

So again, where’s the extrabiblical evidence for miracles?

But I don’t understand where you got that article of faith: that the universe is all that is, all that was, and all that ever will be. Why do you think that?

I don’t. See my comment about dark matter, above.

August 5, 2008 at 11:57 pm
(25) Jon W says:

Imagine, for instance, that one day every Bible in the world starts glowing. [...] If you tear out a page out of your Bible, it stops glowing. If you tape the page back in, it starts glowing again.

But we’re not talking about miracles you witness directly. I’ve been pretty religious my entire life, and even, when I was a kid, went to a church that expected miracles all the time. I’ve never once witnessed anything I could say was a miracle. Not even close.

Even in the Bible obvious miracles are pretty thin on the ground except during certain specific times (the Exodus, Elijah and Elisha’s ministries, and Jesus’ and the Apostles’ ministries). In between you had periods of hundreds of years during which there was really nothing supernatural. It’s not the normal way God seems to work, even according to him.

We’re talking about relying on the witness of those who were there and said they saw it happen. It seems to me that with your glowing Bible you want a personal, incontrovertible message from God that satisfies your own curiosity and skepticism.

But what then? Would you then take everything the Bible says and follow it to the letter? What about the parts that seem to contradict? What about the parts that seem to endorse the wholesale slaughter of pagan men, women, and children? There’s a lot of the Bible that needs to be carefully interpreted, and no one can do this alone. Philosophers point out that you can’t truly understand something as complicated as an entire culture and way of life (which the Bible is part of and provides the literary grounding for) all by yourself: you need the support and correction of other people in that culture. Otherwise, it seems to me that you (not you personally) are liable to turn into someone like Paul Hill, who advocated murdering abortion doctors. So a glowing Bible needs a glowing Church with which to interpret it.

But there is a glowing Church. I know it’s hard to see at the moment since in our culture we’re reacting against Christianity and have a habit of blaming her for everything bad in the world, but the amount of heroic witness the church has done through the ages to what’s true and right and just is pretty intense. And when you read the lives of saints (not the fabulous ones, but real, heroic, historically-attested lives), it’s really inspiring. And when you consider that there are on file at Lourdes quite a stack of x-rays that show inexplicable healings. And then realize that it was Christianity that provided the groundwork for, and embraced and promoted, science.

Find me another culture, way of life, and institution with all that to her credit, one that’s lasted as long as she has and is continually looking out for and integrating into herself whatever truth she finds wherever she finds it. Find me another institution on earth than the church where people are required to go at least once a week and listen to someone tell them that justice and hope and goodness and mercy and most of all love are so important that God himself came to give us the example of how to live them out, and that the living out may cost you your entire life, but you cannot not love. I don’t think there is one.

August 6, 2008 at 12:30 am
(26) Jon W says:

you’ve got to admit that that’s pretty thin gruel. Surely, in 2000 years of searching, you could’ve come up with something better.

Oh, I hope it didn’t seem like I was giving a definitive answer. There’s a lot more evidence than what I listed. In any case, neither LotR nor Fight Club are claiming to be records of actual events. But the gospels are. And my argument does not come from my own amateur analysis, but from literature people. The most famous is C.S. Lewis (but there have been others), who had read a ton of ancient, medieval, and modern literature. When it came to lit, he knew his s—.

Things like “dying for our sins” could easily be a way of rationalizing away the fact that the supposed messiah got himself killed like a common criminal.

That’s true, they could. But the cross was only meaningful in the light of the resurrection. No one could deny that the apostles acted like their leader had given to them what they considered incontrovertible evidence that he was alive and looking after them and was calling them to live the same radical life that he lived and preach the same message he preached.

And my evidence for how the apostles lived comes from more than just the Bible (although, to refer to it as “the Bible” as if it were a monolithic thing all written by the same author or team of authors is problematic). James the Less (the brother/cousin/whatever of Jesus, the one who is credited with writing the NT book of James) spent his whole life praying near the Temple in Jerusalem. Josephus (not the forged part) records that he was thrown off the temple and stoned, IIRC, around AD68 and some Jews blamed the destruction of Jerusalem on this act of killing an obviously righteous man.

There are other accounts of the apostles and what they did, but the Church chose the most sober and best attested for inclusion into the NT: the ones by authors who were either there or were taking notes from those who were there, the ones that had been acclaimed from very early on by lots of people as being solid and accurate. And the church just took ‘em and stuck ‘em together. We’ve always known that there are minor discrepancies between the gospels, but that’s to be expected among eyewitnesses, and the Church thought it more important to have authentic witnesses speaking in their own voices than a perfectly materially consistent text. (Somebody in the early church did write a harmonization of the gospels, but the church didn’t go for it.)

Then there are the reports of various Roman officials who interrogated Christians and found them, on one level, harmless, but on another level awfully fanatical and therefore a potential public safety problem. The fact that Christians were willing to go to the lions for their superstition is pretty well attested in extra-biblical sources. Also the fact that they guarded their eucharist pretty zealously, even to the point of being willing to be thought cannibals rather than explain to everyone what was actually going on (admittedly somewhat unbelievable).

August 6, 2008 at 1:22 am
(27) Jon W says:

How do you know how the disciples lived or died? If you say “the Bible”, then you’re engaging in circular reasoning.

Here’s the thing. The reason why I believe in Christianity is the same reason biologists believe in evolution. A biologist once said, “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” Basically, “Nothing in the universe makes sense except in the light of Christianity.”

When I was growing up I was a special creationist. A number of books that I read purported to refute evolutionary theory by poking holes in it and pointing out problems. And they were partially right. There are huge gaps in evolutionary theory. There are lots of things that the neoDarwinian synthesis doesn’t explain, and Special Creationists and Intelligent Design types like to point to those gaps and say, “See?! See?! There’s so many problems and errors and things that aren’t explained! You’re just unreasonably holding onto something that bolsters your atheistic worldview, and you have to invoke all this special pleading and say ‘we’ll figure it out someday’ because you just don’t want to get rid of the only thing that can make you an ‘intellectually fulfilled atheist’. Ha!”

But then I started looking at the evidence as a whole. I started honestly and carefully listening to the arguments of the Darwinians. And I realized that even though their theory wasn’t 100% perfect, it had the “ring” of truth, and explained so much disparate evidence that it would be foolish to dismiss it based on a few problem areas.

I will be the first to admit that Christianity isn’t perfect, if by perfect you mean that our understanding of it satisfies every longing of the heart 100% all the time. I have a longing to see a genuine miracle and be completely intellectually satisfied of the truth of Christianity, but I haven’t and I’m not. There are times when I wonder if it’s all a crock.

But when I look out onto a marvelous, beautiful, and (most of all) intelligible universe, and then I see not only heart-wrenching evil but also astonishing goodness and virtue, I want an explanation for why there’s both good and evil. I want to know if there is any true justice or whether the final end of a murdered child is just his parents’ grief. I want to know – even more – whether there’s mercy for me in my own petty selfish evil that’s probably too weak to murder someone, but potentially could if I was pushed by circumstances.

And when Christianity says that God made us humans so that the universe could not only be good but would, through our evolution into rational creatures, be able to choose good, but we failed and instead day after day choose evil instead of good and bring stupid, shitty consequences down upon ourselves and everyone else, but that God came himself and lived one of our pathetic lives and got himself murdered and somehow (this is a mystery) in the process took all of our suffering upon himself so that our stupid, pathetic, shitty, meaningless suffering became his and became how he was fixing all the evil we did, I think, “That has the ring of truth.” And that keeps me trying to understand more and more about how all that works.

Christianity doesn’t try to explain away evil. It says it’s as bad as it can be. And it’s never satisfied with giving people half-goods: it says that God’s not going to be satisfied until we’re “divinized”, until we’re living all the possible good that there can be. And as someone who is distressed by people settling for six-pack and a quick lay when they could, with some work and encouragement, be having a strong, fulfilling relationship, I think that one of our chief problems is that we’re too easily satisfied. No one says, “I want to be a junkie when I grow up.”

Anyway, I’m sure not all of that’s coherent. It’s freaking 1:15am, and I’ve got to get up at 7:30. Nuts. Thanks for a good conversation, arensb. (Not that I’m ending it, I just wanted to say that I appreciate the honesty, intellectual challenges, and politeness of the conversation.) Sorry if I got a little grandiloquent.

August 6, 2008 at 1:24 am
(28) Jon W says:

How do you know how the disciples lived or died? If you say “the Bible”, then you’re engaging in circular reasoning.

Here’s the thing. The reason why I believe in Christianity is the same reason biologists believe in evolution. A biologist once said, “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” Basically, “Nothing in the universe makes sense except in the light of Christianity.”

When I was growing up I was a special creationist. A number of books that I read purported to refute evolutionary theory by poking holes in it and pointing out problems. And they were partially right. There are huge gaps in evolutionary theory. There are lots of things that the neoDarwinian synthesis doesn’t explain, and Special Creationists and Intelligent Design types like to point to those gaps and say, “See?! See?! There’s so many problems and errors and things that aren’t explained! You’re just unreasonably holding onto something that bolsters your atheistic worldview, and you have to invoke all this special pleading and say ‘we’ll figure it out someday’ because you just don’t want to get rid of the only thing that can make you an ‘intellectually fulfilled atheist’. Ha!”

But then I started looking at the evidence as a whole. I started honestly and carefully listening to the arguments of the Darwinians. And I realized that even though their theory wasn’t 100% perfect, it had the “ring” of truth, and explained so much disparate evidence that it would be foolish to dismiss it based on a few problem areas.

I will be the first to admit that Christianity isn’t perfect, if by perfect you mean that our understanding of it satisfies every longing of the heart 100% all the time. I have a longing to see a genuine miracle and be completely intellectually satisfied of the truth of Christianity, but I haven’t and I’m not. There are times when I wonder if it’s all a crock.

But when I look out onto a marvelous, beautiful, and (most of all) intelligible universe, and then I see not only heart-wrenching evil but also astonishing goodness and virtue, I want an explanation for why there’s both good and evil. I want to know if there is any true justice or whether the final end of a murdered child is just his parents’ grief. I want to know – even more – whether there’s mercy for me in my own petty selfish evil that’s probably too weak to murder someone, but potentially could if I was pushed by circumstances.

And when Christianity says that God made us humans so that the universe could not only be good but would, through our evolution into rational creatures, be able to choose good, but we failed and instead day after day choose evil instead of good and bring stupid, awful consequences down upon ourselves and everyone else, but that God came himself and lived one of our pathetic lives and got himself murdered and somehow (this is a mystery) in the process took all of our suffering upon himself so that our stupid, pathetic, s—–, meaningless suffering became his and became how he was fixing all the evil we did, I think, “That has the ring of truth.” And that keeps me trying to understand more and more about how all that works.

Christianity doesn’t try to explain away evil. It says it’s as bad as it can be. And it’s never satisfied with giving people half-goods: it says that God’s not going to be satisfied until we’re “divinized”, until we’re living all the possible good that there can be. And as someone who is distressed by people settling for six-pack and a quick lay when they could, with some work and encouragement, be having a strong, fulfilling relationship, I think that one of our chief problems is that we’re too easily satisfied. No one says, “I want to be a junkie when I grow up.”

Anyway, I’m sure not all of that’s coherent. It’s freaking 1:15am, and I’ve got to get up at 7:30. Nuts. Thanks for a good conversation, arensb. (Not that I’m ending it, I just wanted to say that I appreciate the honesty, intellectual challenges, and politeness of the conversation.) Sorry if I got a little grandiloquent.

August 6, 2008 at 6:10 am
(29) Tertia says:

If you enjoy this debate with arensb, by all means continue. However, why anyone would take a “trekkie” serious enough to have this discussion with mystifies me? Rather one should feel for him (and those on whow he inflicts his conceited opinions) – he cannot have much of a life.

August 6, 2008 at 2:33 pm
(30) Jos. C. says:

Jon W., excellent work, I really appreciated being able to read your post. For me, there were two things that really jumped out at me. When I was younger, I was overcome by this irrational notion that I couldn’t (also: didn’t) believe in anything that couldn’t be shown to me personally. (The old redneck formula of “Don’t believe anything you hear and only half of what you see.”) So I believed science (because I accepted it as proven) was true, religion (based on faith) was not — in fact, for me, science had defeated religion.

But you mention, Jon, “witnesses,” and that was the key to my altering my point of view so that I could embrace faith in God. I had to determine for myself whether I could trust the witnesses to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection — a witness which continues in the Church today. After examining the claims the Church makes, I decided that I could accept the witnesses’ account because, as you put it, it has “the ring of truth,” whereas the alternatives can be no more than shadows of it.

Earlier quote from Augustine mentions that faith is a gift, and so it is. I don’t think God could withhold his gift, but it’s difficult to overcome our own prejudices and willfulness in accepting it. This is one of the paradoxes of faith for me, that faith — which gives me the grace to believe in a God I cannot see with my eyes — does not shut me off from the reality of existence, but rather opens it up to me.

arsensb strikes me as having given some thought to his dilemma, I hope he considers your words carefully, Jon.

August 6, 2008 at 3:56 pm
(31) Jon W says:

why anyone would take a “trekkie” serious enough to have this discussion with mystifies me?

[very small voice] I like Star Trek.

August 7, 2008 at 11:24 am
(32) Anthony says:

“This is one of the paradoxes of faith for me, that faith — which gives me the grace to believe in a God I cannot see with my eyes — does not shut me off from the reality of existence, but rather opens it up to me”.

Exactly what I believe Augustine meant by his statement that Faith precedes true and full understanding.
If I personally did not accept the faith that was offered to me, I would have no insight into (or experience of) the things
that Faith brings to light.
How can arenseb(?)or anyone possibly see the logic and beauty of God without believing first? It is like a blind man dying of thirst, who refuses to believe that there is a glass of water in front of him because he cannot see it. If he does not believe those who tell him where there is water, he will not reach out for it.

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