Thursday, December 27, 2007

What it means to be A Christian…

..or not.

You are dying. As you lay in the hospital bed, with the ambient noise of the nearby nurses’ station and people passing, you can feel your body shutting down. The doctors have stopped bothering to run tests—there is no good news to be found. The staff continues to care for your body, but you can see their eyes are concentrating on other patients. Other tasks.

Death is so imminent you have lost the fear of it, due to its inevitability. The “Get Well” Cards have limply bowed their faces; knowing their words of promised health have failed.

And in this long pause between worlds, a young intern rushes in. He seems live and vibrant and vigorous.

“Look, I know they say you are dying. I know what you must be feeling. I was once dying, too. I was just like you are now. Only I took this blue pill. You won’t believe what it can do. If you take it, I promise you life will never be the same. Ever.”

What’s the harm? If it was poison, it would only shorten the delay by hours. Even pain might be relief to this calm passing. So you take the pill with little expectation. But…then…you can start to feel…different. Your stomach starts to soften. Your heart begins to pound with enthusiasm rather than exhaustion. You can feel blood pulsing through your arms and legs and face. You stop gasping for air, and gulping it instead.

“See? See? I told you this was something, eh?! These little babies really do the trick!”

The trick? In Spades!

“Now, I ask you to do a favor for me. I’m only one guy, and there are worlds and worlds of sick people out there. I’m giving you a handful of these pills. All I ask is you give out as many of these as you can by the time you walk out of this hospital.”

As many as you can? Is he kidding you? This is fantastic—a whole new life. A moment ago you were dying, and now you feel as if you could run a marathon! Only a handful? You want more—buckets and backpacks and bushels of the blue pills. You aren’t going to one hospital—oh, no! You are going to every hospital in the city. Heck, every hospital in the state! You are going to be giving out more blue pills than imaginable.

“Look, start with this handful. When you are done, I will be certain to find you and give you some more. ‘kay?”

Pishaw! He will have to find you before you have left this floor. So you bound out the door, ready to share this pill with the first person you meet…which happens to be me.

“Whoa…slow down their fellow! You sure are excited. What has you so riled up?”

You tell me about the blue pill. Seeing my hospital gown and presuming I have need of such a thing, you start to push one toward me.

“No, no thank you. Turns out I have no need for your blue pill. The funny thing is this—I, too, was not doing well. Thought I was dying. And some lady told me about this clever breathing exercise and…well…next thing ya know, I am on my way to dress and leave.”

“The queer part is she told me the same thing—to show everyone on my way out this breathing exercise so they could be well, too.”

You think joining forces would be a swell idea.

“Well…I did think about it for a minute or two. But I look at it this way—I have a whole new lease on life. If I start to stop and give this breathing exercise out…that’s gonna take time. Time I now realize I have precious little of.”

You look at those blue pills…

“Think about it. This is no easy task. I am going to stop and show every one of those people how to do this breathing. That could take hours.”

You are going to have to explain these blue pills to every person, too.

“Some of them are not going to believe it, so I will go through my medical history, explaining how sick I was, explaining how I didn’t believe it at first, and how it has helped me.”

You may have to give some medical history…

“And some of ‘em are going to reject me, regardless of what I say. I am not so sure I can handle that type of rejection.”

Rejection always hurt you more than most.

“So do I want to spend the next 8, maybe 10 hours of my life, working my way out of this hospital, room by room by room, when I could be out appreciating the gift of life this lady gave me? Besides, I think she was moving on to the next room. When she saves that patient, they will go room by room giving out the breathing exercise. Heck, my doing it too is a waste of good resources…way I figure it!”

The young intern WAS headed toward another room. And it sure seemed like a lot of blue pills to pass out. They feel more like little blue anchors in your hand.

“I’m sure someone else will hand out your blue pills. Maybe a doctor or nurse—you know—someone more gifted and qualified in explaining blue pills. Hey, I’ve got some tickets to the Giants/ Patriots game; want to come? Maybe we will run into some sick people there, and give ‘em the blue pill or breathing exercise. What do ya say?”

There will always be sick people. What difference really does it make if you hand out those blue pills today, this afternoon or tomorrow? Tomorrow would be a better day anyway—the Giants and Patriots aren’t playing tomorrow.

And the day passes. And the week. Every year or so, during the spring cleaning, you come across a baggie of blue pills and resolve that THIS will be the year you call the young intern ‘cause you gave all of them out. Some years you even put the baggie in the car for the next time you drive by the Hospital. By Fourth of July they have moved back to the closet to make way for the firecrackers.

And then you find yourself on the internet explaining your story, how you believed in the blue pills, and if only other people would take these blue pills, they would be well. And how, just like everyone else, you think the idea of giving out blue pills to sick people is grand and noble and good, but you are just too busy. Not enough time.

Someone else can do it; ’cause you are too occupied…just…like…everyone….else.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Inside Out

My wife is typically cold. She starts to thaw only when the temperatures reach about 90 degrees Fahrenheit. In a catalog, I discovered a hand cream which was supposed to cause your hands to warm. On a lark, I purchased it for my wife.

She tried it. Didn’t work. I brought it to my office for me to use. Doesn’t work on me, either. Last Friday, I rubbed some on my hands and about ten minutes later, without thinking about it, went to the bathroom. I started to get warm. REALLY warm. Apparently it does not work on one’s hands nearly as well as it works…elsewhere. ‘Bout like Ben-Gay in the jockstrap! Unfortunately, we only have public restrooms, and I thought it would be a mite bit inappropriate to be discovered with my pants around my ankles, splashing away at the sink so I sweated it out. Literally.

I told this tale to some family members, and one brother turned to another brother, saying, “Remember that time you were cutting wood, and you did not know you had touched poison ivy?” Nothing more needed to be said. We all got the picture immediately—recalling the incident with howls of laughter.

I’ll bet any reader who had a family gathering over the past month also had short snippets of statements which would mean little to an outsider, but bring back overwhelming memories and associations to each of the participants.

“Yeah, just like your fishing…”
“…As good as Grandma’s pie…”
“Uncle Ted was so scared, he arrived early!”

Sure, an outsider may get a flavor of the meaning, due to the context, but to the insider participants, the words and the pictures they bring to mind provide a fuller and richer portrayal the outsider could never quite completely appreciate.

I know at times people may read what I write, and bemoan I am not accurately painting Christianity. Or I use too broad a brush. Or I push it out beyond limits it was designed. Can I remind you that I was an insider? I know the catch-phrases, the histories, the nuances. I know the rituals, the steps, the backgrounds.

I also know the excuses, the justifications and the rationalizations.

“Put Christ back in Christmas.” Please. I know how much “Christ” is IN Christmas for the vast predominance of Christians.

It means performing a play or Cantata. For other Christians. It means gathering food, and perhaps sponsoring a family. But only through a Christian organization, of course, and sponsoring a “deserving” family. It means going to Church on the Sunday before Christmas, and (if one is dedicated enough) the Christmas Eve service. It means having a Nativity scene on the Television Stand, and being indignant one is not at the Courthouse. It means reading Luke 2 after watching “Nightmare Before Christmas.”

What it does not mean is doing without. It is not a holiday in which Christianity rises with one accord and demonstrates to the world the extent to which their claim of Christ’s gift of himself is appreciated by giving to the point of sacrifice.

Oh sure, a Christian gives—but to the point of doing without? How many Christians did not have desert at their meal, ‘cause they had given so much they could not afford it? How many Christians reading this blog did without presents so that others could have theirs?

I am now an outsider; looking in. And what I see is the “Christ” most Christians put in Christmas is not very much. Like us outsiders, Christians get together with families and friends, eat too well and too rich, exchange gifts we don’t need, and enjoy the festive spirit.

They may add a program—but is it that different from a tradition of seeing “A Christmas Carol”? They may add a reading—but is it different from a tradition of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas? They may put a bit more in the plate—just like we give a bit more to Salvation Army since it is right there.

Am I too tough on Christianity? I think not. I have been inside. I know the difference. Having now celebrated three Christmases on the outside, I am fully realizing how little Christ is in Christmas. How Jesus is not the reason for the season.

Only I am seeing it is not the secularists removing Him—it is the Christians themselves.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Does the Bible apply today?

We are all aware of the language barrier inherent in discussing both the Tanakh (Hebrew) and the New Testament (Koine Greek.) While we have lexicons and dictionaries, and other contemporary works—what we don’t have is a 8th Century BCE Israelite or a 1st Century CE Judean to explain the individual words themselves within their culture. We can do an antiseptic translation, stating “yowm” means “day” or “division of time” or “period” yet the argument will rage as to whether the “yowm” of Genesis 1 are 24-hour periods, or eons of time.

Or the word ”theopneuostos” of 2 Tim. 3:16. We can see the word is a combination of “God” (theo) and “wind” or “breath” (pneuostos) but since it is not utilized in other literature, not even anywhere else in the Bible, we can only surmise as to the author’s intention of this unique, made-up word. It has been translated as “inspired by God” or “God-breathed;” the exact nuance is ultimately unknown. And yet this is a foundational claim of someone who holds to the divine nature of the Bible!

This point was forcefully made to me in my first semester of Spanish class. If you have ever taken a language class—they make you pick a Spanish name, hopefully one close to your own. For those of us who haven’t a close name to translate—we were able to pick our own. Being me, I choose “Burrito” to be funny. All semester I was called “Burrito” by my fellow classmates and the professor (who had a sense of humor, luckily.)

We learned in Spanish, you add an “-ito” to a word to make it cutesy, or childish. Similar to the English equivalent of adding “-y” to words such as “doll” to become “dolly” or “horse” to become “horsey.” “Muchacho” (young boy) would become “muchachito.” The professor turned to me and dead-panned, “And since Burro means ‘Ass’ then Burrito would mean Little…” The students laughed, getting the joke.

In order to appreciate what he was saying, one would have to understand the implementation of “-ito” in the Spanish language, what a “Burrito” normally is, and that “Ass” can mean a four-legged pack animal…or something else.

While we can sterilely translate the words, can we translate the meaning behind the words? How many times have we typed some comment on-line, and someone else takes it completely unlike we anticipated? How many times have we bemoaned that sarcasm and wryness do not translate well in the written word? The Bible was not written with smilies to provide further information. A “;-)” behind a Proverb to clue us in to whimsy involved.

Take Mark 15:39 where the centurion watches Jesus die, and says, ”Truly this man was the son of God.” Many people interpret this to be a straightforward confession of Jesus’ reality. But is that the author’s intent? What if the author wrote it mockingly? As if the centurion, seeing Jesus humiliated and killed, said, “Oh sure. This was the son of God. And I am the King of Spain. Ha ha ha ha.” (Note the priests were just calling Jesus “Christ, the King of Israel in verse 32, yet we do not consider those words a confession of faith.)

We simply don’t know. We can speculate. We can view the context and hypothesize. But in the end, it is a matter of weighing alternative speculations, in which we can only hope one theory is more persuasive than another.

Worse, the Bible was written to a culture and society we know very little about—and what we do paints a picture very unlike our own. Take Marriage. In the Tanakh, polygamy is treated cavalierly. The greatest limitation is that Kings should not have too many wives. Deut. 17:17. The stories of romance are noted for their being an exception. Wives and marriage were a means to an end, and love was not considered a necessary part of that means.

By First Century Judea, marriage was a means to gain honor or join houses in the society. “Love” had nothing to do with it—it was an arrangement made by the families for the parents’ mutual benefit. The wife was always considered a bit of an outsider; never quite part of the new family. She was expected to obtain her emotional support and relationships through other female friends and her children—not her husband!

In our culture, we look at marriage as the instituting of a new home. At that time, it was looked at as assimilating the female into the male’s family. There was no “new home” but a continuation of the old.

We occasionally hear, at weddings and such, how a couple will become “one flesh” and this means a joining of heart, spirit, mind, personhood, blah, blah, blah. Poppycock. “One flesh” to the authors who utilized the term considered it to mean sex. 1 Cor. 6:16. Oh, you can glamorize it, and extrapolate meaning out of it—but that isn’t what the authors intended when they wrote it.

Which causes me to wonder—given the language barrier, the translation difficulties, our lack of knowledge and the social differences—does the Bible apply today? How much are Christians taking a 2000+ year old book and trying to shoehorn it into a prescription for today? And how well does it fit?

We recently had a discussion regarding Jesus’ words of not worrying about what a person would eat or drink, or be clothed in. Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will take care of itself. Matt. 6:25-34. To the audience of Matthew’s time, their sole concern as peasants would have been basic survival. They were no thoughts of slowly accumulating a fortune. There were thoughts of obtaining enough food to survive another year.

How applicable is that today? Most of us have closets of clothes. Pantries of food. Refrigerators and second freezers bulging with enough food to last for weeks. Are we worried about tomorrow’s food? Nope—we are worried about our son’s college fund. Our retirement package. Does Matt 6 still apply in the age of bank accounts and IRA’s?

Is 1 Tim. 2:9 still good law? Are Christians claiming women should not wear gold and pearls? Or is that 2000 years behind the times? Full and fair warning: If one provides some crack about not taking 1 Tim. 2:9 literally, and we should look at the principle of the thing, I will question why Rom. 1:26-27 should not likewise be taken “in principle” rather than literal.

When is the last time any of us went to the butcher to get some meat sacrificed to idols? 1 Cor. 8:4. Or worried about women having their head covered when they pray? 1 Cor. 11:5. Who goes to church to be cured of an illness? James 5:14

Not long ago, in many conservative circles drinking alcohol was a sin. In the Bible Belt of America, there are “dry” counties—no sale of alcohol, which is still reminiscent of the general feeling of prohibition. Yet in the society of the New Testament, alcohol was a common drink. Most Jews drank about 1 liter a day. Is the Bible out-dated?

Slavery existed both in Canaan and First Century Judea. The Bible tacitly endorses slavery by providing instructions both for the masters of slaves and slaves themselves. Eph. 6:5-9. 1 Peter 2:18-20. Should the Biblical principle of slavery be re-introduced? Or have we grown wiser than the Bible?

And what I see is instead of following the precepts laid out; Christians allegorize what is contained therein to some modern application. Slavery? Oh, no—we will give a sermon on employers/employees using these passages. Meat for idols? Oh, no—we will give a talk on how one can’t listen to Christian rock-n-roll ‘cause it will lead others to listen to actual rock-n-roll (Which leads to dancing and orgasmic sex. All bad.)

Women can wear gold and pearls—that’s just fine! The principle of the thing is that they need to be “modest” about it.

They are already doing it! They already understand what was fine and good 2000 years ago just doesn’t fly today. “Sell what you have and give to the poor” (Matt. 19:21-22) 2000 years over its expiration date; doesn’t apply today! “Give to anyone who asks” (Luke 6:30) Well! This is the 21st Century—they didn’t have homeless people crowding the streets like we do today. That verse doesn’t apply, either!

Even Christians are proclaiming what the Bible actually says is not what it actually means in our day and age. ‘Cause things are different. At what point do we realize applying a book compiled of other books written from 800 BCE to 130 CE in 2007 CE is not going to work?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Why do Churches have locks?

Recently we were informed of another incident in which a person shot a number of people in a public location—in this instance a Church camp and a Church. It is a sad commentary on our times--we have become so acclimated to this on the news, we refer to it as “another” shooting, and before the media has completed their frenzy on one situation, we have heard of a new one.

This recent situation ended differently than most in that an armed security guard shot and killed the assailant during his assault. Although the details are sketchy, the media reports this guard was in place because of concern over security issues, both from past embarrassments (Ted Haggard) and possibly being forewarned of the shooting at the camp.

For full disclosure, I should note I own handguns myself, I strongly support the concept of qualified citizens privately owning guns, and I have had a concealed weapons permit in the past. I am genuinely glad this guard was armed, used her weapon, and was successful in stopping this murderer. I am thankful the church had the foresight to instill this program.

However, it does bring in to sharp focus the fact of how little Christians act as if there is a God. Every church I have ever attended had locks on the door. Every church I attended in the past two decades also has an alarm system.

If God was in control—why would there need to be locks? Oh, we can claim God doesn’t want us to be stupid, and we should use common sense and wisdom, yet this flies in the face of 1 Cor. 1:20-21 which says the wisdom of the world is foolishness. Banks put locks on doors. Stores and business put locks on doors. We would say that is wise of them to do so. But is a Christian demonstrating a lack of faith by doing the same thing the world does?

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said to not worry about what you will eat, or drink, not even to worry about your life! Matt. 6:25-34. Why, then, should Churches have to lock their doors to worry about robbers?

Ever attend a church which has a building project? Perhaps needs a new roof? The same thing—a chart is put up in the lobby in the form of a thermometer, with each “goal” of contribution being a mark, and as the money comes in from the members, it is slowly filled in with red. Does the church say, “We need a new roof—don’t worry—God will provide”? Nope. The church says, “We need a new roof. Let us pray, and pass the plate.”

Part of the line items in a church budge is “insurance.” Including fire insurance. The author and finisher of the universe is unable to stop a fire? Of course not! The church just does not quite have enough faith to think it would for them!

And in this situation a church recognized a viable problem, and instituted a safety precaution. Just like any business would. The church felt God might not stop an assailant, but the bullets propelled from a gun fired by a person would. And they were right.

Although I am informed by many theists there is a God, what I observe is they don’t act like there is one. The church says there is a God watching over them; but has a lock on the door. There is a God who will provide; but has insurance. Here, the Church said, “There is a God; but just in case we better get a gun.”

For the sake of the people who were not harmed, I am glad the theists didn’t believe in their God on that day.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Before you put those Magi in the Nativity Play

I am currently reading “Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels” by Malina & Rohrbaugh and highly recommend it. Amazon Link It provides insights into the Social setting of First Century Judea, and its impact on how we understand the Gospels.

Since we are entering Christmas season, thought I would share some of what they say regarding Matthew’s record of Jesus’ Birth.
Greek handbooks called progymnasmata provided exercises in which students were taught to organize their remarks praising a subject around a series of conventional topics. It is amazing the degree to which Matthew’s birth story follows these school instructions.

For example, Hermogenes instructs his students to being with the subject’s origin and birth. They are to speak of “race, as the Greek, a city, as Athens, a family as the Alcmaeonidae.” Matthew did that with his genealogy.

Next, they are told to describe “what marvelous things befall at birth, as dreams or signs of the like.” Matthew does this too. There are dreams (1:20; 2:12, 13, 19), astronomical phenomena (2:2, 10), angelic appearances (1:20) and even attending astrologers with wonderful gifts (2:1, 11). Quintilian also tells rhetorical students to note things that happened prior to the birth such as prophecies “foretelling future greatness.” Matthew provides these as well (1:23; 2:6)

According to the progymnasmata of Menander Rhetor, one of the first things the writer of a piece in praise of someone should do is praise the city from which the subject comes because honor is ascribed to those born in an honorable city. To pull this one off, however, Matthew had to resort to some deft literary gymnastics. When he quotes the prophet Micah regarding Bethlehem, he turns Micah’s meaning around completely. Micah had called Bethlehem “one of the little clans of Judah.” (5:1). [sic – it should be 5.2 ed.] In Matthew that becomes:

And You, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
Are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
For from you shall come a ruler
Who will govern my people Israel.

In this way Matthew tells of a Jesus who comes from a royal city, has royal ancestors, and is to be a ruler of Israel. (some citations omitted) pg. 27-28

This explains a great deal to one of the problems I have always struggled with regarding the Synoptic Problem. As we know, the Gospel of Mark does not record the birth or childhood of Jesus. He appears on the scene at the very beginning of his ministry, and we are given one year in the life of Jesus, ending with his apparent resurrection.

Along comes Matthew who uses Mark, but introduces a lengthy birth narrative. Luke, also using Mark, also provides a lengthy birth narrative. The problem is how much they contradict, yet where they strangely agree. They contradict as to the year of Jesus birth, the reason for being in Bethlehem, the Magi compared to the shepherds, the angles appearing to Joseph as compared to Mary, the genealogies, the trip to Egypt, and the yearly sojourns to Jerusalem. Those contradictions have been discussed at length in numerous accounts.

The interesting aspect (to me) though is where Matthew and Luke agree. They both agree on a virgin birth, on a birth in Bethlehem but a childhood in Nazareth, on angelic appearances, and both feel a genealogy is necessary. How is it, if each was completely independently making up the birth narrative, they happened to agree on these factors? If they were each using a common source, was it only a bare-bones account that included virgin birth, angels, Bethlehem and Nazareth? But why the divergent genealogy?

And if Luke was using Matthew, why would he modify Matthew’s story so much?

This has always puzzled me, and up ‘till now I listed as one of those things I didn’t know, and if pressed would have speculated as to a bare-bones account they each used.

However, if Matthew was using a Greek method of introducing an individual, and Luke recognized it as being fictional history within that Greek method, he easily could choose to disregard it. Luke could have had Matthew in front of him, and been rejecting Matthew’s use of Greek form!

Simply put, Luke was correcting Matthew’s embellishment of Jesus’ birth by providing a different form of establishing honor.

Fun thoughts to puzzle upon during this Christmas Season….

Monday, December 03, 2007

Wipe out Christianity?

The popular non-believing writers of Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris propose we would have a better world if Christianity as a belief went the way of the belief of child sacrifice to make crops grow.

Should I, as an atheist, be actively attempting to wipe out Christianity?

I struggle with this. I do see good in Christianity. I see a moral system that makes many people act better than they would without it. How many (million) times have we heard, “If I was an atheist, I would murder, rape, rob, pillage and steal”? Please, if you believe this way, Stay A Theist!

I see the chance to provide charity (regardless of the motive) and the convenience of weekly opportunity literally being passed before one’s wallet. I see a social camaraderie, a oneness of purpose, a desire to be better humans, all hanging on a person’s Christianity.

And really, there are many, many beliefs I think are “wrong” that I am not actively petitioning against. So what if a group of people want to believe some guy who died 2000 years ago is still alive and looking down on them when they masturbate.

But on the other hand…

I also see the hate. I see the division. I see the claim of superiority because “God choose them” and not me. I see the justification for harm, particularly towards minorities. (Women, African Americans in the past, and homosexuals now.)

And…let’s face it…I am firmly convinced they are wrong. Jesus didn’t resurrect. The Bible is not any more divine than the list of ingredients on my potato chip bag. There is no “Father, Son and Holy Ghost.”

But on the other hand…

Can we really rip Christianity from people’s lives and expect them to be “just fine.” I had Christianity ripped from mine, and I cannot claim it as a pleasant experience. I do not recall a single deconvert referring to it as a “breeze.” It hurts. It is painful. And while it made me a better person…would it everybody? Are there people who are barely holding on to the threads of morality by fear of hell? If we could absolutely prove Christianity 100% wrong and did so—would the world be better 20 years from now? 50 years from now? (Or would we all be speaking Arabic?!)

I swing back and forth on this. Some days I wish Christianity were eliminated by the harm it has caused. Some days I am glad it still exists for the little good it provides.

Does the harm outweigh the benefit? What do you think—should Christianity be wiped out?

Friday, November 30, 2007

Ripley was on to Something

During a Jury trial, we only have one opportunity to talk directly to the jurors. When picking a jury, we are allowed to ask them questions, to determine whether they can sit as fair and impartial jurors on this particular matter. Due to circumstances in each person’s life, while they may be quite impartial to in one situation; they would be unable to fairly balance the evidence in another matter.

A woman who had been raped may not be able to fairly listen to evidence in a criminal rape trial and thus should be excused. Yet that same woman could easily sit in a contract case or a drunk driving case without her pervious experience having any impact whatsoever.

However, this is partly a ruse. See, as lawyer representing my client, what I really desire is an unfair and partial jury—just one that is unfair and partially predisposed to my position. *grin* (Unfortunately, so does my opponent. The system figures between the two of us wrangling, we will end up with a jury somewhere in the middle.)

We also attempt to explain what our position will be in a trial. One of my law school professors said, “A jury should hear a case four times: once in jury selection, once in opening statements, once in the case itself and once in closing arguments.” So we subtlety ask questions in order to grease the wheels toward our position.

I had a case in which my client offered a better price than the opposing side. I thought this significant and felt jurors who were price-conscious would be more pre-disposed to my position. One of the questions I asked was, “Who has purchased items on the internet?” After most of the panel raised their hands, I followed up with one particular juror, with this question, “What was the primary reason for purchasing on-line?” Now, because of my own predisposition of price-comparison shopping, and where my mind was focused—I was expecting the answer, “Better price.” I was surprised:

Juror one: For the convenience.
Me: Juror two, you raised your hand—why did you purchase on-line?
Juror two: Convenience.
Me: Juror three—why did you purchase on-line?
Juror three: Convenience.

(If you ever want to study the relationship of leaders with followers, and the effect a strong leader can have on a group of people—study juries. Very informative.) Right down the line, every person said, “Convenience.”

I immediately shifted my focus from the price my client offered, as compared to the convenience it offered. Why? Because the group I was trying to convince was not persuaded by the same things which persuade me. They were not like me. Yet this was the group I was trying to convince to go my way. I would have been completely ineffectual to insist to this jury “price” was more important than “convenience” simply because I said so.

It often amazes lawyers to talk to jurors after a trial. What we thought was extremely significant, focusing hours and hours in preparation and presentation can have been dismissed with a shrug and “we didn’t think that important.” Or, conversely, we are asked why we didn’t bring this witness, or address this issue and the other attorney and I roll our eyes at each other since neither of us even remotely thought of that possibility; we never suspected it was important to this jury.

I had a case where my client claimed he swerved his automobile to miss a dog which ran in to the road (but was never found.) The other side claimed my client was simply not paying attention. After the trial, the jurors immediately pounced on us: “Why didn’t you ask what color the dog was?”

The other lawyer and I just stared at each other. He—because his position there was no dog—black, white, red or blue. Me—because if the jury thought there was a dog, its color was irrelevant. Neither of us even remotely thought to ask the question!

I guess this is a long way of saying—we are all convinced and persuaded for different reasons. As humans we vary in what is extremely important and significant to one, and irrelevant and insignificant to another. Try automobile shopping with your spouse. That’ll prove the point nicely.

Very often even we do not know what is important to us. Because of our superhuman ability to delude ourselves, we can convince ourselves we are persuaded because of one reason—yet it is not at the very core of our person.

Four years ago I believed there was a God. If questioned, I would have informed you this was at the very center of my person. It was grounded in everything I believed, everything I did, everything I said. It would have been as difficult to remove the mitochondria from each of my cells, or the letter “e” from my alphabet as to remove God from my being. It was not something “in addition to me” or extraneous, but interwoven and inseparable as copper and tin within bronze.

I began to discuss with skeptics and non-believers; interacting with their arguments presented by the actual skeptic—not some strawperson statement made by a fellow theistic believer. And I immersed myself in studying: Is there a god?

In retrospect, I now realize my God-belief was NOT at the core of my being. It was NOT the very center. What was more important to me was the answer to the question: What actually is? If it was the Christian God; good. If it was some other God: not-so-good, but doable. If it was no God; bad, but if that is what actually is then there is no use crying about it. As key as God-belief was, there was something even deeper—something that could trump that God-belief to the point of no longer believing in a God—the desire for what is actual reality.

(By the way, it is for that reason, arguments such as “Isn’t absolute morality a ‘better’ system?” or Pascal’s Wager are unpersuasive to me. I am looking for what “is;” not what people wish things to be, or prefer them to be.)

Eventually I have come to face the prospect as much as I want to say God-belief was the center, it must not have been. Since I was willing to forego that belief for something even closer to the center—what is.

This is why “evangelistic atheism” fails. People believe in a God for different reasons. To lose that belief, we would need to address the core underneath, which is difficult to do. My wife has the maternal instincts of two and ½ mothers. It is the nucleus of her being. To her, the greatest fear is harm to our children. A loss of god-belief necessarily entails damnation to hell for our kids. Therefore god-belief will forever be maintained. Just as I could not hold on to god-belief, because of the inner search for actual, she could not let go of God, because of the inner fear of harm.

I could provide irrefutable proof there is no god, and it would not make a bit of difference to her. “Proof” is not what convinces her.

Of course, it is also possible there is something even deeper than “actuality” which drives me. Maybe it is some intense desire to sin. I can only (in keeping with the holiday season) rely upon the saying, “the proof is in the pudding.” It is with hindsight I look back and see “what is” was deeper than “god-belief.” That something was more important to me than even believing in god. With equal hindsight—I see no sin. I see no desire to jaywalk erratically, or rob banks. Perhaps some day I will blog how there is something deeper than “actual” which I now recognize. But not today…

What does this mean? It means, when discussing theism, I suggest we start talking like lawyers to jurors. Start talking to the other person as to what convinces them; not what you demand they must be persuaded by. Ask what they believe is important; don’t mandate what is important or not.

I tire of the lame excuse (there is no other word) often made of “You are predisposed to not believe in miracles; so that is why you don’t believe the New Testament account.” Or, “you come from a naturalistic predisposition, so you only view the world as natural.” Please.

Is this really a surprise? Guess what—being an atheist and having studied a little, I am firmly convinced the Bible is a human creation. Solely human. To tell me I think that it is…not very informative. I am persuaded there is no God. To tell me I think in terms of naturalism…is that stunning? Stop begging off because it is hard work. Stop proclaiming the other person is believing wrongly, or is persuaded by the wrong evidence.

Start interacting with the person on their level; with their beliefs. Ask “why” do they believe it? What is convincing to them? What types of things are they looking to be persuaded? Start asking; start listening; start responding to them--not your perception of what they should say.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A World Gone Mad

Sometimes, in my occupation, I am amazed at the people encountered.

Overheard in court by a woman who failed to make numerous payments: “It is their fault, your Honor. They know I have a bad memory and they didn’t tell me I missed a payment.”

Argument by attorney for why he failed to appear for a court date: “I suffer from narcolepsy. I can’t tell whether this is a dream or reality even as we speak.”
The Judge: “Uh…then should you be practicing law?”

When we enter a case on behalf of a client, we use the term “Appearance” as in, “Attorney John Smith appearing on behalf of the Plaintiff…” I was told a few months ago by an unhappy client he wanted me to file my “disappearance” immediately. Didn’t know I could do that, did ya?

Me: Look, we have been talking for over an hour. Time to fish or cut bait.
Woman: Fish or….what?
Me: ‘Fish or cut bait.’ A saying that it is time to make a decision one way or another.
Woman: Oh, like “Shit or get off the pot”?
Me: Well—yes that is a more common way of saying it.
Woman: How DARE you use language like that!
Me: I…er….uh….what?

Judge: If I ordered you for a drug test right now, could you pass?
My Client: [contemplating very hard] How many days back do those go?
Judge: That would be a ‘No.’

Client: I go to AA three times a week.
Judge: Say the Serenity Prayer.
Client: Our Father, who art in heaven…

I get checks from defendants with a drawing of the middle finger in the memo section. Or the words, “Blood Money.” “30 Pieces of Silver.” My favorite was the 70-year old lady who very sweetly informed me she was praying every day God would kill me. So far, I have managed to escape, but I think her prayers will eventually be answered!

Today I heard of a man attempting to get a restraining order…against his neighbor’s cat.

What have we come to?

Monday, November 26, 2007


We point this out to each other all the time in my profession. When the other side makes a claim designed to persuade me, but when taken on its face—they can’t support it.

Opponent: You should take a reduced amount voluntarily paid by my client?
Me: Why?
Opponent: Because my client is so uncollectible, that if he doesn’t voluntarily pay—you will never see a dime.

Me: Then wouldn’t the smartest route be for you to consent to a judgment for the entire amount right now? Then he would stop paying attorney fees, and can laugh at my pitiful attempts to collect. He would pay less money.
Opponent: Well….he doesn’t want a judgment entered….no, I can’t agree to that.
Me: Then the message you are sending me is that you fear I can collect on a judgment—which is it: is he uncollectible or is he collectable?

Or in a divorce case:

Opponent: You take the piano which we value at $12,000, and my client will take the bank account of $12,000. Divide it evenly.
Me: My client thinks the piano is only worth about $3,000. Tell you what—if YOU think the piano is worth all that, YOU take the piano, WE’LL take the bank account.
Opponent: But your client loves that piano…
Me: She can buy three of ‘em and still have $3,000 left over if she gets the bank account.

I get the same sort of tingling feeling of a bluff every time I hear God doesn’t want to reveal too much about himself/herself ‘cause s/he wants us to believe on faith.

Why? What is so wonderful about belief based on “faith” as compared to evidence? Why does God prefer faith? Then I am told we cannot make determinations about God, because he lives on a different plane, or has such a higher intellect, or is holy, or is a spirit, or is not like us, or some other reason.

So when I ask for evidence, I am told God doesn’t prefer it. When I ask what God is like, I am told I can’t know. How is it the theist happens to know what God likes or doesn’t like?

I smell bluff…

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Thanksgiving 2007

We have gone to a certain Uncle’s home for decades. Over the years, our family has gained and lost members, but steadily it has grown to almost 100 people showing up in the same house! It is traditional, with the Turkey, Mashed Potatoes, Stuffing, etc. It is slightly modified for the vegetarians. It includes haggis for a few. (Bleah!)

Because we come from a farmer’s family, the tradition included the men sitting around patting their stomachs after a full meal, while the women did the dishes. (Times have slightly changed. But not much.) And we would eat pie; drink coffee. The children would retire to the upstairs TV to watch movies. (We didn’t own a TV, so this was a big treat.)

The men would retire to the living room to watch the Detroit Lions. Year after year after year.

Then one year my uncle placed a note on the Television. “Sorry. Broke.” No Lions. Instead we talked or played games. Toward the end of the evening, someone noticed the problem—the Television had come unplugged. Turns out the TV worked just fine—my uncle thought it was time we actually talked to each other, rather than waste the few moments we got together as a family, all stupefied--listening to beer commercials and sports announcers.

Another uncle was furious. So furious, in fact, he has never returned to Thanksgiving, and it has probably been 15 years or so.

We discovered is that we really didn’t miss the Lions. See, we can watch football for dozens of Sundays during the Autumn Season. But we only get together as a family for one small afternoon on a blustery November day. Despite the tradition, despite what we thought was ingrained legend—it seems we did NOT need to watch a few more hours of television on this particular day. Now if someone turned the TV on, it would seem odd indeed.

Thanksgiving is a great holiday. It isn’t Christian. It isn’t Catholic. It doesn’t require protests or constitutional challenges as to the type of displays allowed in front of governmental buildings. It is families and friends setting aside some time to spend with each other.

For those who are enjoying American Thanksgiving tomorrow; wherever you are and whoever you are with, make sure you utilize those precious moments wisely. Because by the time you are eating Turkey sandwiches—they are gone. Don’t look back with regret; rather recall with overflowing joy as to the abundance squeezed out of each second.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Why Didn’t the Priests show the Body?

A familiar polemic regarding evidences Jesus physically resurrected is the claim if the body did stay in the tomb, the local Church Constabulary (i.e. the priests) would have gathered up the corpse and proudly displayed it to the Christians, thus forever quashing the idea of a physical resurrection. Since they did not (according to this claim); they could not. They could not (allegedly) because it was not there. Hence the body must be, at the least, missing.

From there our apologist moves on to how implausible it would be for the body to disappear. But let’s deal with this claim—why didn’t the priests present Jesus’ body, assuming it was still in the tomb?

In order for the priests to have done so they would have needed two things: 1) motive and 2) ability. It is not enough for them to want to show the body if they were restrained from doing so. It is not enough for them to be physically able to do so if they had no desire. We need both. Before we dig into to those two factors, please keep in mind three over-reaching problems with this claim:

1) It is an argument from silence.
2) Our information is only one-sided.
3) We must be careful not to impose our 21st Century culture and attitudes on 1st Century Judeans.

Argument from Silence

An Argument from Silence is when we claim just because someone doesn’t say anything means nothing happened. If my daughter does not tell me she learned anything in school today, the Argument from Silence would state she therefore must not have learned anything. We can immediately see the concern with this type of argument—we don’t record everything that happens.

However, an argument from silence does have force, when we would expect silence. For example, the fact my daughter does not mention President Bush taught her Government class today is substantial proof it did not happen, because such an event would very likely result in her telling us.

Here, the silence of the priests is presumed to fall in the latter category—something so extraordinary their silence is surprising.

Our information is one-sided

Our only proofs of Christian interaction with the Jews within the relevant time period come from Christians. We have nothing—a complete void—from the Jewish perspective. We simply do not know what the Jews said or did or attempted to do in response to Christianity. If anything at all.

This means our only source of information comes from the Christian perspective. It becomes dangerously close to a circular argument to use Christian proofs to prove Christianity. Imagine if we only had the perspective of slave owners in the southern United States as to the life of a slave. We would have a much different picture than that viewed through the eyes of the slave.

How many of us have heard one side of an argument, thinking it sounds pretty good, only to hear the other side and realize it was not as strong as we initially thought? (Prov. 18:17) Here we don’t have the other side. We don’t have the Jewish perspective of Christianity either positive or negative.

Acts records 3000 people being saved in one day. (Acts 2:41) But we have no other material or source to verify or disclaim that number. Could it have been 30 and, through the course of history, exaggerated to 3000? Sure. Could it have been more than 3000, and reduced because the author found it too fantastic? Also possible. That is the problem and the point—we simply do not have any way to confirm it.

Further, Acts records the persecution of the Christians by Jews. Yet, again, we have no non-Christian source recording this persecution. We have Tacitus who indicates persecution by Nero of Christians. We have Pliny the Younger (Roman) who tortures Christians to learn their beliefs. Yet nothing, neither from a Jewish source nor Roman regarding this Jewish persecution.

This is an Argument from Silence that is also dangerously circular.

Be careful not to impose our 21st Century culture and attitudes on 1st Century Judeans.

We live in an age of proofs. We demand proofs as to who was responsible for 9/11. We demand proofs of WMD in Iraq. We want trials, and committee hearings, and full disclosure. Accusations require responses.

“Prove it!” is our battle cry.

For us, a religious claim is refuted by argumentation and evidence. You claim to have the original Gospel of Mark? Show me. Likewise, we impose that same thinking on the priests. “Christians are making a claim contrary to your own? I would present the most damning proof—so would they.” Right?

Perhaps. Perhaps not.

“Proving a point” by killing someone is outrageous to us. Yet this was exactly what Ananus did to James the Just, simply to demonstrate his political power. Murder and Assassination was the means to obtain political positions. Positions that were shaky in light of one’s own possible enemies, not to mention the enemies of one’s superiors.

Of the 79 Roman emperors, 31 were murdered, 6 driven to suicide and 4 were deposed by force. Such upheavals in antiquity were frequently accompanied by civil war and the enslavement of thousands. (Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels Malina & Rohrbaugh, pg. 8)

What may be obvious or bizarre to those of us in the 21st Century, may be completely overlooked or unheard of to those in the 1st. When we would demand proof, they may simply murder.

Keeping these three issues in the back of our minds, we shall look at Motive and Ability.


Assuming a group of Galileans was traipsing about Jerusalem, proclaiming a dead guy came back to life and disappeared—would the priests care? Would they have bothered to respond at all?

In order to understand the situation, we need to review some of the history of the time. Josephus records, in Antiquities Book 18, of four main sects of Jews. The Pharisees – a popular virtuous group dedicated to Divine Worship, prayer, respecting of individual freedoms, and who believed in an afterlife dependent on the deeds of the present life. The Sadducees – not popular, who did not believe in resurrection, held solely to the law, but also held the positions of power. The Essenes who do not marry, do not have servants, and who share with each other. Finally, the followers of Judas the Galilean who agree with the Pharisees, only believe God should be their only ruler, specifically not the Romans. It was this sect Josephus records as being the chief instigators in the Jewish War of the 60’s.

So we have the Powerful in the Sadducees, the Popular in the Pharisees, the Abstainers in the Essenes (they even celebrated Passover on a different day) and the Rebels in those following Judas. Yet within each of these sects there are further and varying beliefs, competing with each other. Richard Carrier reports over 30 different Judaic sects during this period, including Pharisees, Sadducess, Scribes, Hermobaptists, Nasareans, Ossaeans, Herodians, Therapeutae, Bana’im, Hypsistarians, Maghariay, Masbotheans, Galileans, the Qumran Sect, Samaritans, Essenes, Dosithean, Sebueans and Gorothenes.(Empty Tomb pg. 108-109)

This is important because at times we seem to simplify the religious beliefs in terms of “Jews,” “Gentile” and “Christian” during this period. It was not so black and white along distinguishable party lines. The Christian claim of a resurrected person would be one among many religious claims being made. It was not the “sole” competition against a unified Judaism. There WAS no “unified Judaism.” There WAS no “sole competition.”

Josephus further reports at times the Sadducees were forced to attach themselves to the notion of the Pharisees in order to maintain their positions of power in light of their own unpopularity. We see in-fighting even amongst the Jews as to which was the correct belief, and a willingness to compromise in order to maintain a position.

Would an upstart religion thrown into this mix even be noticed?

How many religious leaders were engaged in disproving the Order of the Solar Temple before people began to commit suicide? How many of us had even heard of Raelians before they claimed to obtain the ability to clone? Was Christianity viewed as Queen Shamia, daughter of God--a religion which would stun most of us it could obtain any followers at all?

What religious denomination was bothering disproving Heaven’s Gate or People’s Temple prior to the tragic suicides? If I told you of a religious sect which obtained its holy writings by virtue of a man looking into a hat with a brown stone--do you think such a thing would ever take root and grow? Would you spend time disproving this religion?

How would a person be able to determine which religious beliefs would flourish? And which would flop? Unwittingly, in utilizing our 20-20 hindsight, we attribute our knowledge to the people at the time. If you had a time machine that would allow you to only go back to December 6, 1941—where, in the entire world, would you go? Most of us would pick Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Why? Because we are very aware of the events which would be unfolding in the next 24 hours.

And—because we know those events—historians, conspiracy theorists, and laypeople all analyze the events leading up to Pearl Harbor, attempting to determine whether the United States “should” have seen the attack coming. Every inference is magnified, and extrapolated to the nth degree. Only because we know what subsequently happened, are we even looking for these pieces of evidence, and giving them significance.

What if our time machine would only allow us a trip to 34 CE—where would you go? Who wouldn’t be choosing Judea to investigate the historical claims of Christianity? But the only reason we know this is due to our ability to look back. We, perhaps unconsciously, impute the same knowledge to the persons of the time:

Christian: Jesus is physically risen from the dead!
Priest: What?! If we allow this claim to continue, it will spread and grow until early 4th Century, at which time Constantine will make it a state religion, thus insuring its continual promulgation until it encompasses all of Europe, eventually splitting into two main divisions—Catholic and Protestant, but remaining one of three prominent Abrahamic religions, which will proclaim Judaism as incorrect and therefore I must do everything within my power to quash this insidious beast, up to and including exhuming bodies.

Or is it far more likely:

Christian: Jesus is physically risen from the dead!
Priest: *shrug* Nut.

In order to bolster the Argument from Silence (remember?) the statement of Jesus physically rising from the dead must have been so outrageous, so unbelievable, the priests would have to respond in some way—presumably by producing the body. Simply because the disciples said “Love your neighbor”—the Argument from Silence recognizes the lack of any record of the priests renouncing this is unremarkable, due to the number of other people making the same claims at the time.

However, this is a double-edged sword. The more outrageous the claim, the more likely the priests would scoff it off as well. If this apologetic is making the claim, “The idea of a physically risen Jesus was so off-the-charts, the priest would have to respond in some way, and their silence in being able to do so is deafening” then it would also have to deal with the fact such an shocking claim was not responded to for that very reason—it was so unbelievable no response was considered necessary.

In addition to the religious confrontations of the time, the High Priest was also concerned with his own political skin. If the Christians were not threatening to Rome, then the High Priest had bigger fish to fry with groups who were threatening to Rome—such as Judas the Galilean. We see a hint of this in Gamaliel’s speech of Acts 5:34-39.

The High Priest was a Political appointee at the whim of the Roman Government. A list of the High Priests during this period:

Ananus ben Seth 6-15
Ishmael ben Fabus 15-16
Eleazar ben Ananus 16-17
Simon ben Camithus 17-18
Joseph Caiaphas 18-36
Jonathan ben Ananus 36-37
Theophilus ben Ananus 37-41
Simon Cantatheras ben Boethus 41-43
Matthias ben Ananus 43
Aljoneus 43-44
Jonathan ben Ananus 44 (restored)
Josephus ben Camydus 44-46
Ananias ben Nebedeus 46-52
Jonathan 52-56
Ishmael ben Fabus 56-62 (restored?)
Joseph Cabi ben Simon 62-63
Ananus ben Ananus 63


And a list of the Roman Rulers:

Coponius 6–9
Marcus Ambibulus 9–12
Annius Rufus 12–15
Valerius Gratus 15–26
Pontius Pilate 26–36
Marcellus 36–37
Marulus 37–41
Cuspius Fadus 44–46
Tiberius Julius Alexander 46–48
Ventidius Cumanus 48–52
Antonius Felix 52–60
Porcius Festus 60–62
Lucceius Albinus 62–64
Gessius Florus 64–66


Notice how many of the dates of change are similar? Josephus records in Antiquities Book 18 how Valerius Gratus took the priesthood away from Ananus upon coming to power in 15 CE, gave it to Ishmael, then took it away, giving it to Ananus’ son Eleazar, (who had been High Priest before). Gratus took it away from Eleazar, gave it to Simon, and then deprived Simon of it, eventually giving it to Joseph ben Caiaphas.

Gratus was succeeded by Pontius Pilate who retained Caiaphas. When Pilate was replaced in 36 CE by Marcellus, so was Caiaphas by Jonathan ben Ananus. Although Caiaphas was able to retain his post under two different Roman leaders, there was nothing preventing Pilate from removing him post-haste should the occasion arise. If Christianity’s claims did not threaten Rome, it would draw less attention. There would be less need to confront or refute such claims.

Assuming Christianity was proclaiming “Give to Caeaser what is Caeaser’s” (Matt. 22:21) and “Let everyone be subject to the authorities” (Rom. 13:1) in addition to claims of a resurrected body, this would not be politically threatening to the High Priest’s position.

In conclusion, we must question whether the priests would even be inclined to respond to Christianity’s claims in light of other claims being made at that time by far more problematic groups, the believability of the viability of the growing religion, the lack of political necessity to do so, and our tendency to impose future knowledge on the Jews of the time.

Further, as we shall see, this would have to come to a head in a hurry. There would only be a limited amount of time in which the High Priest could recognize the threat of Christianity, and act by bringing out this body.


The key element here is time. When would the Priests first be aware of the claim of a physical resurrection, and would it be too late to produce a body?

Judea in the First Century had a problem—too many people. There was not enough room for cemeteries. This created the use of ossuaries—boxes that only contained bones. They would lay the body out in the family tomb, and let it decompose for one year. On the one-year anniversary of the death, only the bones would be left. These bones would be carefully placed in a stone box, roughly large enough to barely fit the bones. On the outside of the box would be inscribed (in either Aramaic, Hebrew or Greek) the person’s name and perhaps a brief reference. (Malina & Rohrbaugh, pg. 347-348) The ossuary would remain in the family tomb with the decadent’s previous ancestor’s bones and boxes. (This is why discovered tombs have numerous ossuaries.)

This practice ended abruptly in 70 CE due to the vastly depleted amounts of populace from the Jewish war. There were so fewer people that cemetery space was no longer a problem.

Typically Jesus’ family would have a family tomb in Galilee. While Jesus would have been entombed in Joseph of Arimethea’s cave due to the prohibition of allowing a hanged man stay on a tree overnight, (Deut. 21:23) it would have been anticipated—even expected, his body would have been moved to the family tomb in Galilee. Even if Joseph was willing to provide this tomb for Jesus’ body permanently, it would still be anticipated Jesus would decompose and his bones placed in an ossuary.

The rock placed on the tomb would have been a temporary blockage. Tombs were designed and expected to be used over and over—hence no permanent blockage was necessary. Most likely, Jesus’ body was moved to Galilee, but if not, it would have been one of many bodies utilizing Joseph’s tomb.
How did the Jews of Jerusalem bury their dead in the time of Jesus? The Gospel accounts describe Jesus as having been laid to rest in a rock-cut tomb. Rock-cut tombs consisted of one or more burial chambers hewn into the bedrock slopes surrounding the city of Jerusalem. Burial chambers were lined by single rows of burial niches (called loculi), with each niche cut into the walls about the length of a person's body. Each rock-cut tomb belonged to a family and was used by the members of a family over the course of several generations. When a member of the family died, his/her body was wrapped in a shroud and placed in a loculus. The opening to the loculus was sealed with a stone slab, and the entrance to the rock-cut tomb was also sealed with a stone. Eventually, over the course of generations, the loculi became filled with burials. When this happened and it was necessary to make space for new burials, the earlier remains (consisting of bones and burial gifts) were cleared out of the loculi and placed in small boxes (ossuaries). Sometimes the relatives scribbled the name(s) of the deceased on the outside of the ossuary when they placed the remains in the box.


One of fascinating aspects of the tomb of Queen Helena was the claim the rock in front of her tomb was designed to only be opened one day a year. However, this was not typical of most tombs. The authors of the various Gospel accounts write in such a manner as if the stone could be moved. Mark and Luke indicate the women intended to put spices on the body, with a concern over who would be available to help move the rock. (Mark 16:1-3; Luke 24:1). Matthew portrays such concern over the ability to remove the rock the author records both a guard AND a seal. (Matt. 27:66) [No need for a guard or seal on an unmovable rock] John has Mary Magdalene convinced someone moved the rock and took the body. (John 20:13)

The rock could be moved; the body transported anywhere. Acts 1:3 states Jesus appeared to the Disciples over a period of 40 days. 40 days when no Jewish leader was informed of the alleged physical resurrection. 40 days in which Jesus is only recorded as appearing to those supporting his cause. 40 days in which no priest would think of looking in a tomb. 40 days to move that body…

Realistically, for the High Priest to even hope to find Jesus’ body still in Joseph’s tomb in Jerusalem, it would have to be within a short period of time following the crucifixion. After one year, they would be looking for an ossuary.

So how quickly did the Jewish Priests learn of this claimed physically resurrection? Again, our only source of information is Christian writing. Acts 1:3 indicates 40 days occurred between the resurrection and the ascension. Acts 1:12-26 records the choosing of Matthias to replace Judas. Acts 2:1-13 is the account of the Pentecost. Acts 2:14-41 is Peter’s first sermon where he states, “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.” (Acts 2:32, NIV) Part of the problem is what does it mean to be “witnesses of the fact” as well as the accuracy of Luke recording this event decades after. But for purposes of this discussion, we shall grant the benefit of the doubt that Luke accurately dictated this AND it meant witnesses to the physical resurrection of Jesus.

How long was it between the Ascension and Pentecost? One day? One Year? One month? We simply do not know. If it was only one day, then we are within a possible time frame. If it is over a year, this is far too late for the Priests to produce a body—even if they wanted to.

See what we have? Speculation to the accuracy of Luke coupled with the nebulous meaning of “witness to the fact” and the extreme difficulty of lack of knowledge as to when this statement was made. (A demonstrative example of the depth of the problem is the attempt to align Acts’ account of Paul’s conversion in Acts 9 with Paul’s statements in Galatians 1 & 2. A common resolution is to place a period of three (3) years between Acts 9:19 and Acts 9: 20. Verses that state, “…after taking some food, he regained his strength. Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the son of God.” NIV Do you see a break of three years within those sentences? Yet that is EXACTLY what apologists must claim in order to align these passages. If Luke inserted 3 years within Acts 9 without notation, how can we possibly know how many years, weeks or decades could be inserted in Acts 1 or Acts 2?)

This is a problem for this polemic. If the claimant is asserting the Priests would have to produce the body, it is up to the person making the claim to demonstrate they would have knowledge within a certain time. Even using the only source we have, this is speculative.

When did the priests learn of this claim, using the source we have? The first confrontation between the believers and Priests is at Acts 4:1-22. Verses 5 & 6 state; “The next day the rulers, elders and teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. Annas the high priest was there and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and other men of the high priest’s family.” (Annas is the New Testament equivalent of Ananus.) Is there a way for us to narrow this period of time?

Look back at our list of High Priests. Ananus was a real mover and shaker in the first century. Not only was he the High Priest from 6-15 CE, but his sons, Eleazar, Johnathan, Theophilus, Matthias and Ananus were also High Priests at one time. As well as his son-in-law Caiaphas. Yet Acts 4:6 says Ananus was High Priest. Either this would be 6-15 CE (far, FAR too early) or else 63 CE (far too late.)

However, according to Luke 3:2 (and I agree with the general scholarly consensus the author of Luke and Acts is the same person), the author calls Ananus “high priest” along with Caiaphas at the time of Pilate. It is possible Ananus continued to have the honorific “High Priest” even though he no longer held office. (A modern day equivalent would be how Bill Clinton is still called “Mr. President” even though he does not still hold that office.)

But in Luke 3:2, the author refers to Caiaphas as being a joint High Priest with Ananus, whereas in Acts 4:6, the only person called a High priest was Ananus. Further, the author mentions John (the High priest after Caiaphas) and “other men of the high priest’s family” without explaining who was the actual High Priest at the time. Evidently, the author was uncertain as to who the High priest was at this time! During the time of Pilate, the author was clear Caiaphas was High Priest. Luke 3:2. Yet at the time of this confrontation, the author is no longer aware as to who the High Priest is!

Simply put, even the author of Acts does not know if Caiaphas was still the High Priest, or whether Jonathan had succeeded him. If even the author was uncertain if this event occurred before or after 36 CE (the change of High Priest) how can the apologist state it occurred within a relatively short period of time after Jesus’ death? By 37 CE it is far too late to produce a body.

This Christian canard is stretched too thin on the timing.

Of course, one could claim the author of Acts was indistinct regarding chronology. I am uncertain how persuasive it is to claim the reason we should consider the author reliable as to what the Disciples said is because s/he is UNreliable as to dating! There are more examples of this problem with this author. We have already looked at Paul, in addition we have the situation of Acts indicating a famine happened prior to King Agrippa, whereas it actually happened after. Acts. 11:27-30. And we also have the problem of Acts 24:1 & 27 in which Ananias the high priest communicates with Felix (if you look at the lists above, the only possible date for this transaction would be 52 CE) yet says Felix was replaced two (2) years later with Festus. That did not happen until 60 CE.

The only source we have regarding what people did or did not do; what people did or not do at an unclear time after Jesus died demonstrates questionable reliability as to dates, times and people. Why would a skeptic consider this reliable evidence? Why is it persuasive?

So now…if a priest in 37 CE, decided to hunt down Jesus’ body, he would expect to travel to Galilee to look for Jesus’ ossuary at his family tomb, wherever it may be. Even knowing this information, would it be possible to enter the tomb, take the ossuary, and then produce it to Christians as proof Jesus’ body was not physically resurrected?

Probably not. We have an interesting slab called the Nazareth Inscription which makes it a capital offense to remove property from another person’s tomb. The impression given in this polemic is all the priests have to do is want to “go in and get the body” and they would have the authority, even the right to do so. Whatever authority the High Priest had, it most certainly did NOT trump Roman law.

The priests would have to ask a Roman Governor for permission to enter a tomb. Again, the only relevant time would limit us to Pilate, if Jesus remained in a Judean tomb. Would Pilate give permission? To guess either way would be speculative.

Which sums up the problem with this argument—it is too speculative. We are forced to speculate as to the Priests’ motives, implanting in them knowledge we currently have. We would have them picking out the religion that managed to flourish rather than flop out of the various offerings. We have a huge timing issue, as to how quickly the priests would have been informed of this tale, and the problem of the ability to obtain the body, even if the motivation was there.

I am uncertain as to how “Why didn’t the Priests show the Body?” could ever convince a skeptic.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Lethargic Points

I’ve been busy in life; but that is just an excuse. As I peruse through blogs, forums and articles, I am finding my fingers poised above the keyboard—ready to begin a response—and part of my brain says, “Meh. Why bother?”

So here are a few points I should be blogging on. Consider this their just desert.

- The Golden Compass Seriously? A Movie? From the people who regularly provide sex, murder, gore, violence, kidnapping, death, sarcastic biting humor, drugs, broken families, magic, terror, undead, superheroes, aliens, and sex we are content. But have an atheist write a book and have a movie produced on it? The nerve!

- “It is chiefly because of sex that most contemporary atheists have chosen to break with Christianity…When an atheist gives elaborate justifications for why God does not exist and why traditional morality is an illusion, he is very likely thinking of his sex organs.” D’Souza What’s so Great About Christianity” (269) What does a female atheist think of?

- Gideon Bibles are being replaced by condoms. I am unsure why we can’t have both.

- The holidays are great because we get to see our extended families. Curiously, these are also the busiest days of the year, giving us the least amount of time to spend with ‘em.

- Fracture is probably a movie you missed. If you like creepy Anthony Hopkins (Think Hannibal Lector) you would like this movie.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

A Troubling thought

We often see the “Who’s Who?” game in this debate. We want some intellect to be on “our side” while pushing the moral miscreant on to “their” side. Everybody wants Einstein. Everybody wants Hitler…to be on the opposing team.

So we enter (in my opinion-- ridiculous) debates over what teams certain individuals played for. As if the theistic belief of Abraham Lincoln, or Ghandi, or Stalin makes a wit of difference to the viability of anyone else’s belief. (And I should note we ALL play this game. No particular group is any better or worse than another.)

Recently, the hot, hot person of the hour is Antony Flew. A formerly atheist philosopher, who now is a deist. Two or three years ago, if the name “Antony Flew” was mentioned, most people, Christians and atheists alike, would have said, “Antony who?” But now, apparently his change in beliefs is supposed to be making tsunami-like impact throughout the world.

The recent salvo is his book, “There is a God,” in which he describes his conversion. To be honest, this was book 1,009,978 on my list of books to read. And not moving up any, either.

However, an extremely perturbing item regarding this book has come to light. According to this blog by Richard Carrier, Antony Flew didn’t write it. If you read the blog, and the articles cited, Mr. Flew may not even have any knowledge of what is in it! (Thanks to two of my blogger friends for pointing out this item, by the way.)

If this is true, and I have no way to confirm or deny it—I seriously question the truthfulness of its authors. If (and I know this is a big “if”) Christian apologists wrote this book, and had a feeble-minded man mumble his unknowing assent, in order to “make a point” this severely degrades the viability of Christianity.

If you have to lie to “win” your argument; your argument is lost.

I am particularly dismayed by some of the notations by Mr. Carrier, which it has been my experience Christian apologists DO use in their books. Anecdotes at the beginning of chapters. Appeals to authority. Long quoted conversations.

If this book was NOT written by Flew—it should absolutely positively declare it. I would hope Christians such as Habermas, Varghese and Hostetler take these claims by Mr. Carrier extremely seriously and address them. Explain them. If they do, I would appreciate anyone providing me a link here.

I don’t care about “Who’s Who?” But if people are deliberately lying in order to play the game…THAT I care about.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Take a Picture; It’ll Last Longer


“psst! psst! Over here! Quick—get under the ‘net….There….Glad ya came….Isn’t this a perfect evening? Gloomy, the clouds covering the stars—a miasma is in the air. I love that word, ‘miasma’—it sounds so dark and mysterious. Exactly what we are looking for. They hate sun and brightness and happiness, so it repels them…but this—THIS is the perfect weather. I am feeling really lucky tonight.

“Tonight we may be able to get a face. At best all we have managed is a tip of a tail, and what might be a claw—I’ve even seen a blurry shot of a hoof!...[sigh]…but to get a face would be GREAT…a full-on demon face: How cool is THAT?!

“This? I am using a Canon Rebel. Kinda catchy—right? ‘Canon’ as in the Bible; all spiritual and stuff, but ‘Rebel’ as in bad-guy, the one riding a motorcycle with the rolled-up sleeves and tattoos. I like the symbolism of the mixture of the Spiritual with the nonconformist image; it somehow seems fitting to take a picture of the Bad Boys of Heaven with a ‘Canon Rebel.’…Get it? Really, though, you could use about any equip--…quiet! Here he comes…


“Him? Weellll…I guess we could kinda call him bait…sorta. Don’t worry! He is in no danger. I only use Baptist Street Preachers. Those Baptists consider Demons to be safely contained in only the deepest, darkest Africa, or certain Satanic Rituals in Louisiana. He doesn’t think any demon will be coming for him—no sir! He doesn’t believe in any of that Charismatic barfing, or tossing out or any of it. Considers it all a sham. I pay him $50 to go up and down the street, accosting passer-bys.

“See, the way I figure it—nothing stirs up a demon more’n thinking they could lose a soul to torture for eternity. The problem with preaching in a church, is that those who are already going to heaven know it, so the demons don’t bother them, and those that aren’t are just as thoroughly convinced they are too, so the demons don’t bother them either. Waste of time for a demon to be in a church.

“And going to the strip clubs and gay bars? Really the same sort of thing, with the same sort of people. Those going to heaven won’t lose it by dipping in a little sin, and those not are already sinning their little hearts out. No…the place I guess a demon would be most worried is right here. What if someone stops and starts to chat? What if they are convicted?

“Sure, some demons are probably pestering some kid somewhere to steal or do drugs. Or are keeping a person from making it to church by stretching the football game in to overtime. But that is so hard to spot, ya know? If we have any chance of getting a picture we have to smoke ‘em out. shhhhhhh….


“Did you see that girl hesitate? I was hoping…What?...No; no special equipment. As I was saying, we have done intensive research in the subject. Abraham saw angels. Heard ‘em too. So did his wife and his mistress. Lot saw angels, watched ‘em eat, and even touched them! The Jews saw the Angel of the Lord leading them. David saw not only the Angel, but a sword, as well. Mary, Zechariah, all the Shepherds, even Balaam’s donkey could see Angels!

“And Jesus talks to demons, and other people could hear ‘em. Think about it! If Sony had only invented the tape recorder a bit earlier, we could actually hear a voice from the “other side”! We could hear what a demon sounds like. All a camera does is capture what our eyes see. If some Shepherd was carrying a camera-cell phone, he could have snapped some amazing pictures!

“Somehow these guys are able to cross the plane between ‘supernatural’ and ‘natural’ and while being ‘supernatural’ actually appear ‘natural.’ It doesn’t make a lotta sense to me; but the way I see it is this: The Bible says people could seem ‘em; and if you can see ‘em—you can take their picture!...Wait….quiet…quiet…


“Nuts! This guy is worthless! Not one single person has stopped for ‘im. I had one lady who was a REAL screamer. Boy did she draw the crowds! Unfortunately, I think she was pushing people away from Jesus. If any demon stopped by, he didn’t stick around for long, ‘cause maybe she was doing his job for him.

“Sorry about the heat. It gets warm under this camouflage net….Pretty good, huh?...Did you see where I glued some syringes on so it looks like a drug user has been here? No demon is going to bother with that—I can tell you! I once glued on a Playboy too, but people kept trying to pick it up. Oh, don’t worry—I had glued all the pages shut. Yeah—can’t think about that! Demons can smell one drop of sexual temptation over a mile away—did you know that? Saw it on “Mythbusters.”

“Those demons are pretty wily. If they saw me out there with a camera, they would never appear—far too smart to be caught. It’s why pictures of them are so rare. Back before digital cameras, they could possess the people doing the photo processing, and ‘conveniently’ lose the pictures. Ever take in your pictures and have them ‘messed up’ in the process? Some come out blurry? Or completely black? Demons.

“[Sigh] Sometimes I think about all those wonderful shots of demons…lost…….but anyway—what with all the digital cameras out there, and how many people there are, perhaps the demons are outnumbered. Maybe we have a better chance with newer technology…here he comes again…


“Useless!...Hey…uh…YOU don’t have any preaching skills, do ya? Want to earn a quick $20?...Oh…well, never mind then…Something to eat? I have stale granola here. Don’t worry—nothing sugary, salty, fatty (including Trans-fat) or tasty in any way. You won’t like it, and it is good for you. Again, those other foods only invite temptation, and we could give away our position.

“Hmm?...I’m not sure how they do it. Because they are spiritual, doors and walls are no bars for them. We could find them in the deepest, darkest cave, or in the depths of a prison, or in a locked closet. And they can almost see our thoughts. They have had years of studying humans, and know what will take us away from Christ. They have infiltrated our government at the highest levels, and have penetrated our televisions, educational systems, and entertainment.

“No, they are not as strong as God! They can only do what God let’s ‘em. God can be everywhere; they can only be in one place at a time. ‘Course there are so many of them, it can seem like they are everywhere. And because they are spiritual, they have more abilities than humans—like what I have been talking about. And they are far, far smarter. Plus they can possess you and make you physically move, talk and do things. They can control your mind. God doesn’t do any of that! They—


“Arggg! Missed it! Well, I didn’t see anything, did you?...Yeah, it would be so great to get a picture—the night seems so right for it, ya know?...Oh, I don’t know…I would certainly post it on-line, of course….or maybe I would sell it—some big Christian magazine. Christianity Today or New York Post--something like that. But mostly I would use it to show all those scoffers.

“Show them how wrong they were. Because of me, there would be no more atheists. No more agnostics. Think of how many people would come to Christ because of me and my picture! Then they would have to believe….wouldn’t that be great?

“Hey, I don’t appreciate your tone. No, I am NOT being ‘tempted’ to take this picture. There is no sin here—I am not doing this out of pride! I am doing this out of a sense of right and wrong. To show truth! There is nothing wrong with that. ‘Temptation’ is wanting to legalize homosexual marriage, or rob a bank, or teach evolution. It is what other people do—not me! If I WAS being tempted, demons could sniff it out, which means they would know, and not…show…up……they would know…


“Oh, Shut Up! You aren’t fooling anybody, you lousy huckster! You haven’t gotten one person to stop. No wonder no demons came tonight—you are completely ineffectual. Here is the perfect night shot to…well…shot, because you can’t do your job…NO, you are NOT getting your $50—I don’t care if you were depending on it for groceries for your family. You should have thought about your family when you were out there preaching (if that is what you want to call it) and tried harder. Get out of here!

“Hey…uh…it was kinda nice to have some company. Do you want to do this again?...Oh, no—I don’t have time to feed and clothe the poor. I can’t be wasting my God-given talent visiting the sick or elderly. I need to get this picture of a demon. This is the sort of proof God wants people to have.

“Another time, then…I hear there is a Christian Rock Festival in the next town…that is just the sort of place a demon might hang out…

Demon Picture
Demon Picture
Demon Picture

Monday, November 05, 2007

“What’s so Great about Christianity?”

I confess. I haven’t read The God Delusion. Nor have I read End of Faith or God is Not Great. Of course I’ve heard about them, and some snippets from them, but have never sat down and actually read them. There are so many other books and interests, I have not been able to work up the faintest curiosity to crack these open.

I know—I will likely lose my atheist card over it.

However, I am currently reading What’s so Great about Christianity? by Dinesh D’Souza, which has been compared to being the “Christian response” to the trifecta onslaught of atheist best-sellers. I have to say, the polemic is less than persuasive to someone who is not a Christian. I wonder if books such as The God Delusion produce equal responses of antipathy and disappointment in those who believe differently?

There is a growing curiosity to pick one up and read it as best I could from a Christian perspective. If they are similar, I could see why someone such as Dawkins is disliked by the Christian community.

Little effort would be required to go through and start bashing various statements within the book. Most of us have heard these claims before; nothing new. Further, because the author covers such a broad range within a few pages, it is necessarily shallow when covering topics which have taken multiple tomes.

Perhaps it will improve…

So—what books are YOU reading? What book(s) are you anxiously looking forward to read? What book have I not read, and you are disappointed in my failure to read it yet? *grin*

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

I’m Stumped

I always enjoy a rousing conversation about apparent contradictions in the Bible with inerrantists. Fun to watch the fur fly. (Useless in the end, yes I know, but such a predictable outcome to such predictable maneuvers—I can’t help myself, it seems.) And up until now, I figured there was a resolution of some sort (no matter how unreasonable—at least logically possible) to every contradiction.

Recently I came across a contradiction I have not seen a proposed resolution, and I cannot find one through the demi-god Google. I find people dance around it. I see people talk about other contradictions near it, but none on point. Any help would be appreciated. (I like to know what the resolutions are, at least. Doesn’t mean I buy ‘em, obviously.)

The issue is the old standby of what day did Jesus die—was it Passover or the Day before Passover?

The Problem as traditionally stated rests in the fact the Synoptic Gospels place the Last Supper as a Passover Meal (See Mark 14:12-17, Matt. 26:17-20, Luke 22:7-16). Remember the Jewish day runs from sunset to sunset, so Thursday sunset to Friday sunset would be one day. If Jesus ate Passover Thursday evening, this means the rest of the events unfolding on Friday would still be Passover.

Therefore, Jesus would have been betrayed, tried, convicted, crucified and buried on Passover according to the Synoptic Gospels.

However, John 13:1 implies this Last Supper was before Passover and John 18:28 indicates the Jews did not want to enter Pilate’s house on Friday Morning, so they can eat Passover. John 19:14 states this was the day of Preparation for Passover, John 19:31 indicates the next day was a “high Sabbath” (Some authors indicate the First day of the feast of Unleavened bread was considered a Sabbath. If this fell on Sabbath, it may have been considered a “high Sabbath.”)

According to John, Jesus would have been betrayed, tried, convicted, crucified and buried on the day before Passover.

And if one looks up the traditional responses, we see two primary resolutions:

1) If one wants to align John to the Synoptics (i.e. claim Jesus died on Passover) it is claimed the term “Passover” means the entire week, so the meal the Priests were talking about in John 18:28 was another meal during the week of Passover after the Seder normally eaten on Thursday night OR the Priests simply had been too busy to get to the Passover meal, what with trying and convicting Jesus.

2) If one wants to align the Syoptics to John (i.e. claim Jesus died on the day before Passover), it is claimed Jesus ate Passover early (‘cause he would be too busy being dead on the actual Passover on Saturday), so the Last Supper was not the actual Passover meal, but a meal conveniently eaten near the Passover. Like eating Christmas Dinner on the 23rd ‘cause that is the day the whole family can get together.

While these are fun and all, the problem I have not seen specifically addressed, is the conflict of days between Mark 14:12 and John 19:14. Some brief background information:

Jews celebrated Passover beginning with a special meal called “Seder” which commences at Sundown and necessarily consists of lamb. The lamb was killed and prepared during the day, prior to sunset. After the Passover, was seven days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. There could be no yeast (leaven) in the house for the entire seven days, which means prior to the Passover, a ritualistic house-cleaning was performed, to guarantee everything in the house was kosher, and no yeast was present.

Our order of days would be:

A – Day before Preparation day or Two days before Passover
B – Preparation Day for Passover (Lamb killed)
C – Passover
D – First day of feast of Unleavened Bread
E – Second day of feast of Unleavened Bread, and so on…

There are some references in Josephus “C” and “D” were considered the same day, so the First day of the feast of Unleavened Bread was also Passover. This doesn’t help the problem. Again, remember Jewish days went from sunset to sunset.

Look at Mark 14:12. It starts off, “On the first day of Unleavened bread, when they killed the Passover Lamb…” You might notice Mark appears to be saying “B – Preparation Day” and “D - First Day of Feast” (or possibly “C - Passover”) are the same day—they are not! This, in itself, is a problem. But for the moment, I will set it aside, and presume Mark was saying it was “B – Preparation day.” (In a moment we will see why.)

If we keep reading through Mark 14, Jesus informs his disciples to make arrangements for Passover in the Upper Room. Then Evening comes. Mark 14:17. Under the Jewish calendar we just switched days. We went from “B – Preparation day for Passover” to “C – Passover.” And as we continue through Mark (as well as the other Synoptic Gospels) the events unfold on this Friday/Passover.

But now look at John 19:13-15, specifically vs. 14. “It was preparation day for the Passover.” John could not be clearer Jesus’ trial, death and burial was happening on “B – Day of Preparation.” Whether one wants to argue John 18:28 was the Priests referring to one day, or the whole week is irrelevant—John 19:14 makes it patently obvious this was the Day before Passover.

How do we possibly align these two passages? Start with John’s claim Jesus was killed on “B – Preparation day.” This day would have started Thursday at sunset. Meaning the day before must be “A – Day before Preparation” This would be during the day, Thursday, before the sun set, when Jesus told his disciples to arrange the Upper Room for the Last Supper. But look what day Mark claims this to be in Mark 14:12 – either “B – Day of Preparation” (by saying the lamb was killed) or “D – First day of Unleavened bread.” Neither is “A - Day before Preparation.”

Worse, we note Mark 14:1 actually refers to “A – Two days before Passover” recounting how the anointing of Bethany happened on that day. To align John to Mark, we would have to say Mark was claiming “A – Two days before Passover” and “B – Day of Preparation” and “D – First day of Unleavened bread” were all the same day! This may remove the contradiction of John, but it leaves us with a tremendous contradiction within a few verses of Mark. (and Matthew as well.)

Starting with John’s claim of Jesus dying on the day before Passover leaves us in a horrible muddle in Mark. So let’s start with Mark. Again, putting Thursday during the day as “B- Preparation day” this would mean Thursday night and all the events on Friday prior to sunset would necessarily fall on “C – Passover.” (and possibly “D – First day of unleavened Bread as well.) But this directly conflicts with John 19:14 which states these events happened on “B – Preparation day.”

I started looking at this contradiction, and proposed resolutions, but all I have seen addressed the problem of when the Priests ate. Note the direct problem of John 19:14 as compared to Mark 14:12.

Does anyone have a proposed resolution? No matter how unlikely—at least one that is remotely plausible?

Friday, October 26, 2007

That’s it?

I am a habitual radio station changer. I perpetually think there must be something better on some other station. Having satellite radio provides me with dozens of opportunities to “change the channel.” One of my regular landing spots is FamilyTalk which, depending on my drive home, can consist of Dr. Albert Mohler. This past week, I happened in the middle of an interview Dr. Mohler was holding with that paragon of Christian philosophy—Dr. Alvin Plantinga. Needless to say, I was interested enough to not flip stations.

There was as bit of hazing of Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion in which Dr. Mohler chortled over Dr. Plantinga’s review including the statement, “I would call it sophomoric, but that is an insult to sophomores.” Which was followed by:

Dr. Mohler: Would you say Dawkins wrote with knowledge regarding Philosophy and Theology?
Dr. Plantinga: No, he was writing outside of his area of expertise. But to some extent we all write outside our area of expertise. To write a comprehensive book within these subjects, one would need to be a Ph.D. in Biology, Philosophy AND theology. Frankly, the scope is too wide for any one person to know all these things.

This statement is refreshingly honest. While Dr. Plantinga certainly did not care for The God Delusion, at least he admitted we cannot know it all. At some point we are stuck relying upon information provided to us by others. Sadly, when Dr. Mohler summed up the interview later, he said, “I thought it particularly significant Dr. Plantinga said Dawkins was writing outside his area of expertise.” I found myself screaming at my dashboard, “NO, that is only partially true. Why can’t you be honest and include all writers? Why the spin in only one direction?”

But I digress…

Dr. Mohler: If you had Richard Dawkins in the room right now, what would you say to him right now about Christianity?

I leaned in close. What would Dr. Plantinga say? What did this extremely bright man think was the “magic bullet” for Christianity? Jesus’ words? The Resurrection? The Philosophical viability of a Christian world-view? Again, I appreciated his thoughtful, intelligent response:

Dr. Plantinga: Oh, you can’t reason a person into Christianity. As you know, I believe in the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit. Without that, there is no arguing a person into Christianity.

I am finding, in debating with apologists, many are greatly impressed by scholarly accolades. By persons who have published numerous books, and have more letters behind their name than the Chinese alphabet. Dr. Plantinga more than qualifies as such an individual. Here we have a Christian intellect, talking to a Christian audience (plus one lone atheist driving his car, and a rumored deist somewhere in Oklahoma), on a show which bills itself as “Intelligent Christian Conversation”—he could have said anything and this audience would have nodded their heads in agreement.

“The Resurrection has been proven to have a 97.82% chance of being accurate.”
“Yep—we agree!”

“The Christian world-view is the only one that sufficiently explains the world as we see it.”
“Yep—we agree!”

“My proof, as outlined in this book or that book indefensibly demonstrates Christianity”
“Yep—we agree!”

Yet instead of all that, he simply said the Christian God has to come to you. Regardless of what a human studies, or theorizes, or conceptualizes, or rationalizes, or internalizes, in the end it comes down to God. Without the Holy Spirit—we non-believers are sunk.

Unfortunately, life is not so black & white. What do we do about deconverts? Did we have the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit, but it stopped testifying? Can God pull out of the situation, leaving us hanging? Or is this testimony a one-time event? Or were we simply convincing ourselves of having the testimony, but didn’t really have it? We were fakers? Genuine, honest, sincere—but fakers?

The other question left unanswered, is if the human has any responsibility in the affair. Do I have to ask the Holy Spirit to testify first? Do I have to look for the right testimony? Can I harden my heart against the Holy Spirit?

The more I thought of his answer, the less helpful it was. He WAS talking to a Christian audience. An audience who equally were convinced they got the break, they beat the odds, they had the favored status of recognizing the testimony of the Holy Spirit and grabbing on. Pity the poor foolish Dawkins who we all know the Holy Spirit is banging away internally, and he is missing it.

Testimony is useless if the person doesn’t hear it. It cannot reside in only the testimony; it must include the person doing something correctly in hearing that testimony.

See, by putting any human responsibility in the factor, any at all those who do it “right” gain a sense of pride. They aren’t Christians because God randomly happened to chose them in an arbitrary shooting match—oh, no! They are Christians because of their own ability to score just a little better on the test. They listened when they were supposed to. Oh, they may assume a false sense of humility, “Not anything I have done, but you, Oh Lord” (who hasn’t heard that ditty?) but if it takes even an ounce of human effort; that is one more ounce than the damned non-believer could muster.

Dr. Mohler: Well, what would you say to Dr. Dawkins about God?
Dr. Plantinga: Oh, that is just…obvious. Everyone can naturally see there is a God. It is simply…obvious.

That’s it? I tried to account for the make-up of the average listener of this show, and what they would expect. Again, it would not have mattered what he said, most would nod and agree. However, I was aware of at least one non-believer who was very interested in how he would argue for a God.


Needless to say, I was underwhelmed and disappointed. Is “obvious” such a good perspective of determining actuality? As I sat there, I thought of the sun moving across the sky. Equally, I could say it is “obvious” the sun is moving around the Earth. From this perspective. Or here is a fun experiment. Take an open can of paint and spin around in the middle of your living room—what happens? They assure me the earth is spinning at approximately 1,000 miles per hour. At that speed I would think it “obvious” we should fly off in space. Yet we do not.

It is “obvious” to me the sky is colored blue. That we should not put things which appear to come out of a chicken’s butt in our mouth. That earth has some sort of force which “grabs” us and holds us in.

How curious I am told, by looking at the observable, testable, natural world about me, it must be “obvious” there is something non-observable, non-testable and non-natural.

While I enjoyed the interview, I admit at the end I was left with the discomforting feeling of “That’s it? That’s the best that can be mustered about God?” To be fair to Dr. Plantinga, this was a short radio bit—perhaps I should not have expected any more.