Monday, January 31, 2011

Obesiance to Lord Xerox

Today’s apostate is named “Dawn” and her comment is:

My "other" is that I started researching the origins of the stories of the Bible and found they came from bastardized versions of older religions. If a rapper borrows another artist's lyrics, it's called sampling and looked down upon. If stories are borrowed it's called the Bible.

Um, hold on a sec -- in the time of the Bible, such borrowing wasn’t looked down upon, and that’s precisely where Dawn goes marvelously and astoundingly wrong.

As I have noted in several contexts: Malina and Rohrbaugh in their Social Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels specifically discuss the example of Mary’s ‘Magnificat’ prayer as they explain:
To be able to quote the [Old Testament] tradition from memory, to apply it in creative or appropriate ways to the situation of daily living, not only brings honor to the speaker but lends authority to his words as well. The song of Zechariah, the so-called Benedictus, in Luke 1:68–79 is an example. It is stitched together from phrases of Psalms 41, 111, 132, 105, 106, and Micah 7. The ability to create such a mosaic implied extensive, detailed knowledge of the tradition and brought great honor to the speaker able to pull it off.

Of course, one reason rappers don’t consider this sort of thing honorable is because the guy who does the “sampling” is making money from the process. The Biblical writers weren’t. The financial aspect presumes a modern notion of intellectual property rights which didn’t adhere in the ancient world, especially when it came to religious texts (since the “owner” was God anyway, not the prophet!).
In other instances, borrowing was done as a form of one-upsmanship. The classic example I use is from my article on Mithra:

Mithraic scholars, you see, do not hold a candle for the thesis that Christianity borrowed anything philosophically from Mithraism, and they do not see any evidence of such borrowing, with one major exception: "The only domain in which we can ascertain in detail the extent to which Christianity imitated Mithraism is that of art." [MS.508n]

We are talking here not of apostolic Christianity, note well, but of Christianity in the third and fourth centuries, which, in an effort to prove that their faith was the superior one, embarked on an advertising campaign reminiscent of our soft drink wars. Mithra was depicted slaying the bull while riding its back; the church did a lookalike scene with Samson killing a lion. Mithra sent arrows into a rock to bring forth water; the church changed that into Moses getting water from the rock at Horeb. (Hmm, did the Jews copy that one?)

Think of how popular Pokemon is, and then think of the church as the one doing the Digimon ripoff -- although one can't really bellow about borrowing in this case, for this happened in an age when art usually was imitative -- it was a sort of one-upsmanship designed as a competition, and the church was not the only one doing it. Furthermore, it didn't involve an exchange or theft of ideology.

I can’t say much more than this without Dawn giving out specifics. But it speaks badly enough of her awareness that this was the sort of thing that started her down Apostasy Road. It’s one of the most ignorant, gullible and pathetic reasons to have doubts – and that’s putting it nicely.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Pooping the Party Line

Our apostate of the day, styled “dgm”, brings us a new twist:

One of the main reasons for me was the appropriation of Christianity by the right-wing and Republicans. It got to the point where true Christians were Republicans and conservative and that was it. One could not be even a little liberal/progressive and be a Christian according to most people I knew. Then the whole "it's o.k. to torture because we're in a holy war" thing really disgusted me.

Nick observed that this was emotional reasoning, and that he says this as a staunch conservative. I, too, say it as someone whose political leanings have been rated on the line between conservative and libertarian (and who is much to the left on certain environmental and animal rights issues). But in general, there’s a couple of points to be made on this.

First, briefly, on that line about torture: It’s hard to say what the point is here, since I know of no one who has used such reasoning. Maybe dgm went to some really far out churches in his time – and to that extent, I wouldn’t blame dgm for being confused.

But here’s the main issue. People seem to forget (or be unaware) that it was an appropriation of Christianity by the left-wing that got this all started. The right wing was just reacting to at the left wing was doing. I would hope (in fact, I would suppose) that dgm and others would be consistent and also object when it gets “to the point where true Christians were Democrats and liberal and that was it.” And then of course we have stuff like liberation theology that may say true Christians are Marxist, and so on.

I belong to no political party; none represents what I believe adequately about political values. I also think (rather cynically) that when a politician appropriates a religion, chances are 9 in 10 that it is just a ploy to get easy votes from a known group. That said, because moral issues lie at the heart of both religion and politics, it is inevitable that at some point, goals and purposes will intersect. We have to be realistic and suppose that despite what fantasies Skeptics may engage in legal terms, there will not be a “wall of separation” between the way people think about church and state and how those institutions impact their lives.

To that extent, it can hardly be avoided to suggest that this or that political stance is more or less in line with this or that religious stance. There should be no blanket assessment of Christianity as a “Republican” or “Democratic” arsenal. But it remains inevitable that some issues-stance will be more or less in line with what the Christian faith demands of its followers.

We would be foolish to deny that – and Skeptics would be fools to think they could prevent it.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Ryan's Song

Our next apostate for consideration is Ryan Anderson:

For me it was discovering that Mark 16:9-20 was a later addition. Obviously, this by itself is fairly easily explained [sic] away, but that was what initially woke me up.

I won’t say much in condemnation of our apostate this time, since he does concede that the issue of the Markan addendum is easy to explain. Nevertheless, the fact that it was this issue which first raised questions raises some serious misgivings.

On his end, it seems difficult to countenance that this was some sort of “discovery”. It’s related in the notes of many translations that Mark 16:9-20 is not part of the original text.

But then again, I’m finding again and again that far too many people don’t seem to notice those notes. I can’t imagine how sheltered they must be for this to happen, but with leading teachers like Joyce Meyer oblivious to the issue, it’s enough to make Chuck Norris cringe.

Just yesterday, I discovered while reading for an E-Block article that the early 20th century devotionalist Arthur Pink offered the worst example yet, not only quoting Mark 16:16, but calling it the most important words Jesus ever said. GAG.

A pastoral friend of mine was asked why more isn’t said about this sort of thing, and the answer isn’t a pleasant one. Apparently most pastors feel that revealing that eg, Mark 16:9-20 is not original will cause their flock to have a crisis of confidence in the Bible. Well, folks, that’s why you have to then explain why it shouldn’t be one. As it is, the example of Ryan shows that the crisis is going to occur if you do not tell the people the whole truth. And by that time, it may be too late for explanations.

Some may wonder why, in my E-Block articles, I always point out when some writer uses Mark 16:9-20 in an unqualified way. This is why.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Pinfeathers, Dude!

Going back now to our roster of apostates, we have this explanation from one “Emodude”:

My first seeds of doubt were very easily sewn when I picked up a book at the bookstore that described Jesus' life not from an evangelical viewpoint, but simply from a historical fact one. At that point, I realized that I wasn't getting all the information there was to know about this guy from church. Which made me think - what else weren't they teaching me, or didn't they want me to know??
There’s a lot more information we’d like about this one – particularly, what that “book” was. For all we know, it may have been anything from Crossan’s latest trash to even more putrid productions from the likes of Acharya S. But that may matter little, from our perspective. Regardless of what book Emodude picked up first, the fact that he didn’t get enough information from his church is a stinging indictment of those pastors and preachers who aren’t providing it.

I’m not saying pastors need to be educated in such matters; frankly, I know few that would be capable of grasping such issues in depth (my own current pastor is an exception). What they do need to do, as I suggested in an article for CRJ at one time, is assemble some sort of listing of persons or materials that can serve as resources for those who have questions. Ideally this could be a seminary professor, or even (cough) a serious apologist – someone who makes it their business to keep up with books like these and what they say. (But no, don’t worry about not having any particular book read and analyzed – no one reasonable can expect that. Rather, be well read and be willing to read more to answer questions.)

It would also be good (yes, I’m fantasizing heavily here) for churches to have regular classes to keep them up to date on the latest challenges. And the pastor need not do a thing except say from the pulpit, “If you’ve heard about the latest book by Dr. Grunt, saying Jesus was actually a green homosexual Inuit, our resident expert Frank Frunk will be discussing that tonight in church training class.” Is that so hard for a pastor to do? From the reactions I get, you’d think I was asking some of them to hold a live weasel rather than simply asking them to promote a teaching.

I’m also not saying, of course, that Emodude knows his business; if he follows Loftus’ blog, he’s already down 50 points on the critical thinking scale. But there’s plenty of obvious blame to be set at the door of our churches for not taking their responsibilities of discipleship seriously.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Making Life Easier with Frontward Labels

We’ll take a break from the stupidity of apostates today to discuss the stupidity of those who aren’t.

This morning, as my beloved Mrs H and I were on the way to her work, the yammer-traps on the local Christian radio station were commenting on how packaged foods would soon have nutrition information on the front of the package, rather than on the back. It’s our usual routine for me to give Mrs H giggles by making comments about such things we hear on the radio; this time I said something to this effect: “Yeah, that’s great, because we all know what a strain it is to turn the package over and look at the back of it!”

Three seconds later we weren’t laughing – because that was the very next thing that came out of one of the yammer-traps’ mouths.

Oh, of course, it wasn’t put quite that way: Rather, it was offered as a positive thing that indeed, we would no longer have to go to the trouble of turning the packages around to read the nutrition information. As if this were a Hard Thing.

Well, yes. How about this then:

We’ll also have supermarkets install mobile shelving that moves up and down so that you don’t even have to bend over (or reach up) if your selected product happens to be a little higher or lower than your arm. In fact, these mobile shelves will be equipped with muscular strain detectors, so that if you are sensed to be a little tired just now, they can move just the right amount to allow you minimal exertion.

Well heck, here’s a better idea: Add robot arms to the shelves so that they can turn the package around for you to read the nutrition data. Or make each package produce a holographic projection of the data on request (complete with dancing clowns and music, so your kids can enjoy it too), exactly at eye level (complete with facial composition detectors so the package knows what level your eyes are at).

By the time you’re done with all this reading, you’ll be pretty beat, so supermarkets should also have floors that move you around (or better yet, seats), as well as machines to carry your groceries, open your car, drive you home, turn on your TV and cook dinner, and even take care of those pressing needs following your use of the restroom.

Yes, it’s a good thing we won’t have to actually pick up and turn a package any more to get the nutrition information. Because as we all know, personal responsibility can be exhausting work.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Taken for a Ride

Continuing now with our look at some comments from Loftus’ collection, we have this from one styled “Juno Walker”:

I voted "Other" because it was a lack of personal experience of Jesus or God, or any of the things my congregation was saying they felt, even though I was born into born-again Christianity.

Nick noted on this one: “Personally, I don't know what they mean by a personal experience, but I do understand most Christians have made it normative.” Well, I don’t know what they mean either, but I suspect it’s all manufactured, whatever it is.

Some people wonder why I’m so hard on “too personal” views of God – even against such things as reading overfamiliarity into texts like the Prodigal Son parable and the “Abba” title. This is an example of why. There’s no Scriptural basis for this “personal experience of Jesus” stuff – epistemically, it’s just the Mormon “burning in the bosom.” My estimation is that it is a thoroughly manufactured artifact – people (notably extroverts) hyping themselves up the way someone would at a rock concert. No, that’s not the Spirit you’re feeling, folks – that’s adrenaline.

If these experiences were real, I’d be a good proof for it – because as a hardened introvert, I just can’t manufacture these experiences. But I have none to speak of. I don’t “feel” the Spirit “moving” anyplace. Even what I regard as my ministerial calling did not come of such subjectivity; it came of a combination of circumstance, opportunity, and desire – which I might guess some of these folks mistake for the “Spirit” moving too.
I’ve seen plenty of apostates like Juno here, who complain that they left the faith because they didn’t “feel” or “experience” God the way others did.

We’d just better hope there’s not a price to pay for those of us who misled such people for no other reason than we wanted an “experience”.
My suggestion: The next time any of you “experiential” folks want an experience…try a roller coaster at Busch Gardens.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Chips and Communion

Couldn’t help but notice this story either, about how a Doritos ad is being pulled from the Super Bowl roster because it portrayed the elements of the Catholic Eucharist being replaced by Doritos (from bread) and Pepsi Max (for the wine).


I haven’t watched the Super Bowl in years and right now don’t even know who’s left in the playoffs. Just don’t care any more. Stopped caring when beer commercials took up more time than the game did.

Personally I’m not offended by the ad. I find it roll-your-eyes stupid. That’s about it. But keep in mind that’s what I think of about 99% of TV ads. (I figure one of the best in recent years is the GEICO “former drill sergeant” bit.) And it won’t cause me to eat less Doritos and drink less Pepsi Max because I already can’t stand them. Too much sodium in the chips, and those new sweeteners leave a bad taste in my mouth.
Now for the serious comments.
The ad firm that made this one has apologized. But you have to wonder at the stupidity of them not seeing what kind of offense this would cause. Obviously someone didn’t know (or appreciate sufficiently) that the Eucharist elements are considered to by Catholics be the body and blood of Christ. In other denominations, it’s more symbolic, of course, but I can certainly see even Southern Baptists, for example, shaking their head at this ad with their view of the elements as merely symbols. At the very least it is stupid because it turns the ritual into a joke that not even Joel Osteen would pull.

Yes, there’s all sorts of other considerations, such as: They’d probably not have done something like that to an Islamic ritual. That angle’s being played elsewhere, as are others; I’ll relate it to apologetics.

What this shows is indeed insensitivity, but also profound ignorance. I’ve never made Catholicism one of my serious subjects of study, and even I know that this would have offended some Catholics. There are other signs of ignorance as well, as the ad apparently mixes together different denominational artifacts (eg, calling the priest a “pastor”). Whoever made this thing was either making a fairly poor attempt to be funny while trying not to offend by making the church “generic” -- or else was profoundly ignorant. Or maybe both.

Still and all, as I said in a recent article for CRJ, about books like Jacob’s Year of Living Biblically, Christians also can blame themselves because none of this would have happened had we been fulfilling Matthew 28:18-20 as we should be. Even if we don’t persuade people to convert, then they’d at least know what we believe and where not to cross the line. One reason Islam isn't crossed as much this way is because they speak up when something like this happens and make a lot of noise. (They add violence at times, too, of course, but that's another issue.) If only we were as noisy when it came to teaching people what we believe!

As it is, I see this ad as being of a piece with such things as people not even being able to coherently explain basic doctrines like the atonement and the Trinity – inside the church or out. We’re too busy entertaining ourselves instead – with football games and junk food.

Kind of ironic – on Super Bowl Sunday (whenever that is – I don’t even know that) a lot of churches will have well-attended Super Bowl parties, but those same churches can’t even get a handful of people to come to educational classes with any depth.
This ad? It’s the fruit of our own neglect.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Rodent Most Unlearned

Previously we had a series on people who never learn. Now we’ll do a little series on people who need to. Specifically, we’re looking at some samples from those who on John Loftus’ apostasy poll gave some reasons for their apostasy (or start into it) that frankly stink. Thanks to Nick Peters for collecting these and offering some comments.

We start with a chap styled “Hamsterwheel” who said:

INITIALLY it was the diversity of so many mutually exclusive religions. That was the biggest problem for me back when I was going to a private Christian school with chapel every Wednesday and church every Sunday. I think other religions are probably the biggest source of intellectual insecurity that Christians try to ignore, and they are a significant component of the OTF. Every reference to another religion in the news or in the world around them is a frequent reminder that faith is delusional nonsense.

As Nick observed: “ So when I see differences amongst evolutionists on abiogenesis or the way evolution played out, I should decide that the whole thing is nonsense?”

I’ve remarked on the bankruptcy of Loftus’ OTF a few times, and its lack of originality. The main issue here though is that someone was simply too lazy or ignorant to face diversity with anything more than a white flag. So they’re diverse, and mutually exclusive – so what? It’s no source of “intellectual insecurity” to those who do their homework, especially when you consider that despite the diverse numbers of religions, the actual number of variations in type of belief are exceedingly small.

Put it this way: While there may be countless cults that misunderstand the Trinity, there are really only a small number of ways you can mess it up in a way that deserves consideration. (Eg, not stuff like, “God is a grapefruit, the Son is a pomegranate,” etc.) The JWs deny the eternality of some members. The Mormons deny the interrelatedness of the members. Oneness advocates deny the unique personality of the members. That’s as far as the variations go reasonably, and virtually every other deviant group is just one of these under another label. Diversity? It’s just not that diverse – sorry!

It takes an exceptionally benighted and ignorant person to say that “every reference to another religion” is a “reminder that faith is delusional nonsense.” Of course, with the mental horsepower of such of Loftus’ readers being as limited as it is, that’s understandable. But I’m not in that position. References to other religions don’t frighten me like a little lamb lost. Nor do they frighten intelligent Christians who have studied other religions in some depth, such as my friend Jochen Katz at Answering Islam. So “hamsterwheel” can speak for himself and his fellow ignoramuses on that score.

I couldn’t close this post without noting that this is also a good advertisement for having classes on worldviews and world religions in our church training programs. But admittedly, many pastors are more like hamsterwheel on this subject than they are like me or Katz!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Oh, Brother!!

I noted today that Alabama’s governor, Robert Bentley, was criticized for saying that only fellow Christians are his brothers and sisters. I don’t get much involved in politics, and would probably disagree with a good measure of his policies, but I have a news flash for those offended: Don’t target him especially, target Jesus.

These days there’s a lot of misreading of passages that refer to one’s “brother” (also, “sister”) – there’s a tendency to universalize that to mean “your fellow man”. It doesn’t mean that, and such a meaning would never have been conceived for it. It would have meant only two things: 1) One’s blood relations. 2) One’s ingroup. The latter is exclusive, not inclusive. And if you don’t like that – too bad. Ask Tom Jefferson if you can borrow his scissors, then.
Some of the whines emerging from this are rather amusing. Some are questioning if this means the guv can be “fair” to non-Christians. Whether he can or not, a single, isolated statement wouldn’t reveal much of that. But if he’s following Jesus’ commands, he’s also supposed to love his neighbor. Agape love means to look out for the best interests of others, and according to Jesus, we’re to make even the despised Samaritan our neighbor. So if anything, the critics should be delighted that the guv said what he did: If he’s that committed, it means he’ll go out of his way to be fair. They ought to be worried instead that he won’t follow in the intentions his words expressed.

There are other issues as well. The news says this was before a church gathering, so those who whine about him violating the First Amendment are barking up the wrong tree; they may as well complain that he was speaking at a church to begin with. The Anti-Defamation League called his remarks “shocking” and “offensive”, and it’s nice to know they took the time to analyze this heartfelt sentiment in such a shallow way when we have things like Ken Humprheys promoting Holocaust deniers.

An Islamic representative asked, "Does it mean that those who according to him are not saved are less important than those who are saved?" and also said, “Does he want those of us who do not belong to the Christian faith to adopt his faith? That should be toned down. That's not what we need.” Yes, I suppose what we really need is the sort of persecution you get in places like Iran and Saudi Arabia when you’re a Christian rather than a Muslim. Surely that doesn’t need to be toned down, does it? Some people just can’t seem to get rid of that log in their eye, can they?
Oh well. I suppose if Jesus was nearly stoned and eventually crucified for being honest, having to deal with a bunch of hypocrites and whiners isn’t that big a deal. I’ve been doing it for years, after all.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Platinum Screwball Awards, 2010

Over on TWeb, final votes are in for the winners of 2010 Platinum Screwball Awards. I'll be publishing those on early in February, but you can get a sneak preview my going through the January 2011 Screwballs thread linked below.

This year we have a new variation: The Platinum category winner that won by the largest margin receives what I'm calling the Diamond Screwball Award. The first winner: A statement by an atheist styled "little_monkey", who said at one point this past year:

Logic led me into error, which proves my point, that logic leads into error.

Gotta love it.


Friday, January 14, 2011

Ken Humphreys and the Holocaust Deniers

Christ-mythers seldom impress me with their honesty or decency, but it isn’t often I have an extreme case like this one.

Earlier this week on the Ticker blog I noted that Christian Lindtner, who is a source for several people who try to find parallels between Jesus and Buddha, is also a Holocaust denier. A reader also discovered the same about Lars Adelskogh, who is also used as a source for this.

Now you can imagine what Skeptics would make of this if I ever used a source that held to such an obnoxious (to say nothing of counter-consensus!) view. Holocaust denial is one of the most offensive stances to take in our world today and there have been people disgraced for far lesser views. Brooks Trubee would be fighting with John Loftus in a lights-out death match for the chance to be the first to deliver that scoop. But when you’re a Christ-myther, apparently you get a free pass on such things and morals and checking are completely out the window.

Ken Humphreys, a leading Christ-myther online with whom I once had an online radio debate (Justin Brierley's Unbelievable), makes use of both Lindtner and Adelskogh as sources for his copycat page on Jesus and Buddha. I asked Tekton Research Assistant Punkish to inquire with him as to whether he was aware of their Holocaust denial stance, and what he thought of it. Humphreys' response is both illuminating and disgusting at the same time. We were given permission to reprint it here:

Prof. Lindtner's opinions on matters not germane to the origins of Christianity are neither here not there. Are you, perhaps, suggesting that he has ceased to be an expert in ancient languages and Buddhist scripture? Now that would be worrying!

Neither here nor there? It looks like someone needs to take a swimming break from the cesspool!

No, it is not “neither here nor there” at all. True, it does not taint Lindtner’s knowledge of ancient languages or texts (though from all I have read of the works of credible Buddhist scholars like Richard Saloman, Lindtner isn’t as much an expert on that as he pretends to be either!). It does, however, raise serious questions with respect to how credibly he reports and interprets the facts about those languages and texts -- and when the subject is a matter of some obscurity to those who read the works (eg, Sanskrit, and Buddhist scriptures), credibility is an exceptionally important factor in whether or not a source can be trusted. Humphreys does not know anything about Sanskrit. Nor do I. Nor do nearly all of our readers. We are therefore obliged to take (or not take) the likes of Lindtner at their word when it comes to what they say about these subjects, and when such a person shows questionable judgment, as is required for someone who denies the Holocaust, we have two options if we wish to be responsible brokers of information:

1) Verify the data and arguments from more credible sources. (Though as noted, when I have tried to do this, Lindtner has failed conspicuously in various ways!)
2) If we can't verify, don't use the source in arguments and don't use their arguments.

It’s not a simple matter of “he’s biased, so you can’t trust him” (a common canard which I have been accused of myself), but rather, that the position(s) held are so counter-consensus, so contrary to the evidence, and -- here, most critical of all -- so rooted in an offensive ideology, that any sane person would check them out before using or defending these sources. It is clear that Humprhreys and others who use these “scholars” as sources either can’t see this, or are so badly on the defensive when it comes to their own adherence to a fringe thesis that they don’t want to.

Indeed, it is more germane than even this. The root of Holocaust denial is anti-Semitism. So, in fact, is Lindtner’s mission to force a match between Jesus and Buddha. One of the lesser known aspects of the Nazi program was Hitler’s attempts to validate Aryan supremacy by sending teams of archaeologists all over the world, including into Tibet, to find evidence for this thesis. (See link below.) Someone who tries to deny the essential Jewish origins and background of Christianity, and instead tries to find origins on Buddhism, fits hand in glove with this anti-Semitic tendency. (The swastika, note, was a Buddhist symbol well before the Nazis corrupted it.) Those who use Lindtner and his ilk as sources are thereby participating fully in his campaign of anti-Semitism and enabling it.

Humphreys further stated:

The study of JC is complex enough without having to vet and approve the political or philosophical position of every contributor. You may think me naive but I chose to believe facts are facts and logic is logic.

Naïve? That’s an understatement. Humphreys is not only naïve for using these works; he’s also sorrowful, reprehensible, and irresponsible. The stances held by Lindtner should immediately raise in the minds of any decent human being the question of whether indeed his “facts” can be trusted and whether his “logic” is sound (though even if Lindtner were as pure as the driven snow, applying those terms to his work would be comical). If indeed “facts” and “logic” are what is at stake, then surely Humphreys can find some other qualified scholar in the field who makes the same assessments but doesn’t hold to a patently offensive ideology that so coarsely devalues the lives of six million Jewish victims of Hitler’s hatred. (The obvious problem for Humphreys, of course, is that no qualified scholar does hold such absurd positions or make such absurd arguments.)

From here on, this will become one of Tekton’s crusades. We will hunt down and highlight those like Humphreys who make use of these despicable scholars and their work, until they remove those references from their material – or else until they kick the bucket.

Of course, if they don’t, that’s fine too – because in the end, it will become all the more apparent to observers that such persons have little interest in truth, and even less interest in honesty and decency.

Reference on Nazi archaeology: here.

The Forge will next post on Tuesday after the holiday.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

And he calls ME obsessed?

John Loftus has said that he’s going to ignore me several times now, but for some reason he just can’t break his JPHOCD addiction. A reader noted a message he had left for a TWeb fundy atheist named “Pitchforkpat” in which he claims that “Holding dogs my steps” and yet “I ignore him”. Presumably he does so by constantly talking about me to others like this. He also says:

He must be upset that in my books I do not refer to him, but he'll never admit it.

Me? Upset that John doesn’t mention me in his books? Yeah, I guess so – being mentioned by Lee Strobel, Norman Geisler, Boyd and Eddy etc just isn’t enough – I want John to mention me too!

If I were you I would leave TWeb for good.

Yep. Sort of like John does – every month or so!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Thanks, Doprah!

Personal note today on the continuing dematerialization of thoughtful engagement in our culture:

My beloved Mrs H and I are awarding a special recognition to Oprah Winfrey for turning the at least moderately educational Discovery Health Channel into a narcissist sounding board for her own fantasies and delusions. Once again, serious television (well, at least mostly serious) has been displaced with pablum for the benighted masses, leaving those of us who prefer a little thoughtfulness in our entertainment to get it mainly by drawing our own comics or writing our own stories. You didn’t think I did that just for fun, did you? (The good news is that most of the shows we liked on Discovery Health – like Dr. G, Medical Examiner – are still available on a less known network called fitTV.)

In light of Doprah’s decision to turn a semi-educational network into a roving emotional narcotic, I’ve designed a logo for it. Here it is:

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Viktory Unassured

One last “they never learn” for now. Of course, those never end, so we’ll have plenty more someday.

I mentioned in a past post “Doctor Logic” and his silly claims about various figures like Mithra being resurrected. He’s not the only one who’s perpetuating the ignorance. Roger Viklund – whose primary hobby horse is trying to force-fit Jesus into a frame made of Buddha – also peddles this tripe, and does so without any shame concerning how much grease he has to apply to do it.
He admits to start that “there are no proofs that Mithras was a dying god, and he had to die in order to rise again.” But he immediately changes the subject to something else:

In almost all mystery religions, however, the initiates underwent a symbolic death and rebirth.

Really? “Almost all”? Where’s the evidence for that? None is given, though Viklund thinks he has some proof from the Mithraic cult, from The Chronicles of Emperor Commodus. This document says that the emperor:

... polluted the Mithraic rites with real homicide, whereas the custom in them is only to say or to pretend something that creates an appearance of fright.

Hold on a second though. Where does this say there was a symbolic death? It doesn’t – it refers generally to “something(s)” that “create an appearance of fright.” That might be a death, but what it symbolizes isn’t said at all. It might also be something else scary – like dressing as a mythical creature, or presenting a lot of tax forms.

Beyond this, it escapes Viklund that this – and the “image of a resurrection” said to be in Mithraic rites by Tertullian – comes from hundreds of years after Jesus, which means that if there’s any copying that was done, the evidence says, “other way.” In addition, Tertullian also says he’s relying on his memory – which is a sort of code for, “I may not have got this right.”

Finally, there’s no indication that the “resurrected” entity was Mithra himself.

Thus, despite Viklund, there remains no solid evidence for a death of Mithras – just as the experts in Mithraism say. They never learn.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Dead Head Ed

Next on our list of people who never learn is a no shocker entry: Ed “I’m Talking and I Can’t Shut Up” Babinski. For reasons unknown to anyone but him he left a reference to some post of his over on the Ticker, which only vaguely had anything to do with the post itself. But that’s Ed’s way: It doesn’t take more than a mention of ducks to get him motor-mouthing for six weeks about nuclear physics.

To give Ed credit, he starts by rightly noting that the old “ice-water-steam” analogy doesn’t reflect the Trinity well – if anything, it reflects the modalistic heresy. Of course, that’s the sort of thing a child of seven should be able to figure out, so try not to give Ed too much credit – especially considering where he goes once he’s through with the bad analogy, he goes straight from that into Lunacy Junction:

Also, the Trinity is a metaphysical puzzler with different "persons" proceeding from and/or through each other. Catholics and Orthodox Christians still can't agree on whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from just the Father, or, from both the Father and the Son.

Uh, no, Ed. It’s not a “puzzler,” it’s just over your head. The Father proceeds from no one. Wisdom and Spirit proceed from the Father. Period. The other part – the filoque – is an interesting metaphysical study, but neither view results in anything “puzzling” unless you’re one of these people who can’t even get a single color on one face of a Rubik’s Cube. (See link below for more.) No other doctrine is affected by either view being true – and neither has an advantage of coherence over the other. Debating the issue is like asking what if beans were peas –good occupation for the theologians. Pretty much useless to the rest of us.

That’s a point for another “they never learn”: One of Ed’s favorite hobby horses has always been to babble on about diverse views within Christianity, whether it be Calvin vs Arminius or wood floor vs pile carpet. Here, he also mutters about how “[s]ome Bible-revering theists” who “reject the Trinity”. The rub of that is he’s not educated enough to win a debate with either side. And never mind that “revering” doesn’t have john dip to do with interpreting correctly. When Ed can’t answer an argument, he points to diversity. It’s no wonder why.

On the filoque: here.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Fun with Fungi

The next entry in our “they never learn” series won’t require a lot of comment….I was made aware of this one and decided it fit very well in the theme of these posts.

On a 2001 trip to the cathedrals of Europe, anthropologist John Rush and his wife entered St. Mark's Basilica in Venice and encountered a mosaic depicting Jesus surrounded by mushrooms with an Amanita muscaria cap in his hand. Examining the space with new eyes, they discovered images of mushrooms and mind-altering plants all over the Basilica. Intrigued, Dr. Rush spent seven years researching and reflecting on the profound effects hallucinogens had on the founding of all three major Western religions. He concluded that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are political constructions evolving out of the use of not only Amanita muscaria, but a plethora of mind-altering substances.

Failed God: Fractured Myth in a Fragile World reexamines the scriptural stories of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam as told in the Bible and Qur'an and reveals them as "concocted mythical charters stemming from drug-induced romps with the super-natural." Rush shows how mind-altering substances played an instrumental role in the birth and development of Western religions and explains how they contributed to reports of "prophetic" experiences, including angry and disturbing messages from the divine. With chapters on Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, Rush fully addresses the effects of mind-altering substances on each tradition, convincingly discrediting the idea that they stem from actual human interaction with the divine. He also shows how an intoxicated and over-zealous Apostle Paul corrupted Jesus's simple message of human decency, forming an oppressive religious system based on fear. In a thought-provoking conclusion, Rush asks how we can continue to attribute authority to traditions that were so clearly irrationally founded and incompatible with today's world.

Wow. Who says John Allegro can’t be outdone? The breathless arrogance. The incredible disregard for scholarship. A thesis so wacky that not even Richard Carrier would touch it. Not yet, anyway.

Yes, they never learn – three of the five reviews on Amazon are five stars. I was feeling masochistic, so I went ahead and ordered it....maybe we can make some posts on it somewhere.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Strange Case of Dr. Tragic

For our next subject in this series on people who never learn, we have someone I have never dealt with personally before, and probably won’t unless I get masochistic. Nick Peters alerted me to this comment on Victor Reppert’s blog by one “Doctor Logic”:

Yeah, it's strange how the notion of resurrection had never occurred to anyone earlier in history. I mean except for Mithras. And Osiris. And Dionysis. Oh, and Tammuz.

Oh boy.

You can see my series linked below for why these guys were not “resurrected” – especially Mithras. The inclusion of that one really talks the biscuit, because Mithras never even died, for pity’s sake.

Later, this guy compounded the error by appealing to the old “Justin Martyr” canard , to which Nick gave him a refutation article (see second link below). When the article was pointed out to him, he called it “biased” (just said so, no reason given, or to think it affected the arguments) and claimed it just proved his point about resurrection being non-original. He has yet to admit an error on any of those figures, though.

I’d like to make special note of this one because a look at his blog reveals “Doctor Logic” to be one of these sorts who is more into science issues than anything else. This is the sort of Skeptic the average person might think is worth listening to: He is “trained in physics” and writes with authority on his subject matter. And yet, he was apparently uncritical enough to buy lock, stock and barrel into pagan copycat arguments, including a highly embarrassing argument that Mithras was “resurrected”.

How can someone seem so smart, yet be so stupid, at the same time?

Actually, more than that, this is a sign of an ideologue – someone who promotes ideas uncritically without checking into them. The atheistic world is full of such people. I’ve taken on a good bunch of them. They’re cookie cutters. Seen one, seen ‘em all. They also have this in common: They have to have their arms twisted off, and their heads beaten with the stump, before they admit they are wrong about anything -- even something as simple as a point of grammar.

And they have this in common, too:

They never learn.

On a side note, speaking of people who never learn: I was advised that Richie Carrier was bragging on The Infidel Guy how he trashed The Impossible Faith. I wonder if he also bragged about how he demanded more pay before he replied to my responses to his material?

My pagan copycat series here.

On Justin Martyr here.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Skeptical Fish and Chips

Moving on from yesterday’s theme of Skeptics who never learn, we have a miscellaneous roster of folks, some old, some new, who we’ll look at over the next few days.

First on the list: Stevie Carr. Now talk about someone who never learns – Stevie has remained as mouth-frothingly ignorant as he was when I first tanned his backside back in ’96.

Consider his comments on that post made by Vinnie, that we looked at yesterday:

God can raise people from the dead, but he cannot create mass hallucinations.
Some things are just too hard even for a god to do.

Stevie is an expert at the barely comprehensible non sequitur, as this one is, though to be fair, he’s basing this on Vinnie’s mishandled argument. Even so, we have to ask why Stevie would want to argue (or allow it to be argued) that God created a mass hallucination of Jesus risen from the dead. Letting God into the picture would seem to be counterproductive for Stevie’s ultimate ideology. But apparently that doesn’t occur to him.

If people were inventing stories, surely they would have invented a story that was plausible rather than a story about a world-wide darkness of 3 hours that nobody recorded?

This is the best example from this set of how Stevie never learns. He’s been corrected on this multiple times, often by me: No, Stevie, the NT does not say the darkness was “world-wide” – the term used in Greek is a highly flexible one that can mean anything from a nation to a very limited area. Whether it ever does mean the whole earth, as a political entity, is something I seriously doubt – at best, it is used at times to refer to the “earth” in the sense of that which is opposite “heaven”. But that in itself connotes no specific geographic content.

Who would believe a story of a world wide darkness of 3 hours that went unrecorded outside the pages of the Gospels?

Stevie’s been corrected by me on this repeatedly as well; at one point this resulted in a rather amusing exchange in which Stevie essentially denied the reality of a phenomenon called “sun dogs” – he’s the “someone” I refer to in the link at the end of this entry. From that time on, it was a refrain on TheologyWeb for some of us to crack Stevie on the head with any time he made a stupid statement. Which was pretty much all the time.

These days, Stevie seems to occupy a lot of his time making inane comments on blogs like Ben Witherington’s. He remains as clueless as he always has been, repeating some of the same arguments he knows he’s been refuted on, apparently hoping he’ll get a different result. He used to ply TheologyWeb under “stevencarrwork” but seems to have slinked off into the void now.

One thing he definitely needs is an audience who doesn’t know his record.

Link: See section, “Pliny -- Not Too Bright?”

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Yep -- Vinnie Still Doesn't Have the Power

So I was checking to see if any of the old Skeptical stooges I used to beat up on were still making noise. One of these was Vinnie over at the “You Call This Scholarship?” blog, who from the looks of things is spending more time on politics and less on religion these days. I can understand why. This was a twit who thought reading a handful of books by chumps like Bart Ehrman turned him into Atheist He-Man.

He made a post lately about the Resurrection, and it’s not easy to see what the point of it is. Vinnie notes a lot of the counter-intuitive and counter-factual aspects of the case for the Resurrection (eg, mass hallucinations do not occur) but after not giving us any answers to any of that, goes for the easy way out with something that appears to have been composed while smoking books of green stamps:

The problem with this line of reasoning is that if we allow for the possibility of supernatural interference with the laws of nature that we observe, then we no longer have any basis to say any ancient story is any harder to make sense of then any other ancient story. If we don't think that the patterns we observe act consistently at all times and places, then there is nothing that doesn't make sense in a story that undercuts a storyteller's agenda, in shared hallucinations, or in people willing to die for a lie. We can say that every story makes sense, or perhaps, that the notion of making sense becomes moot.

Um...yeah? So what?

Nothing here but a classic mistake on Vinnie’s part – the sort he retains because he hasn’t yet washed his brain clean of fundamentalism. I’ll use my favorite example to show why.

I reject the historicity of Joseph Smith’s First Vision. Why? Not because it is “supernatural” (and by the way, let’s remember that the natural/supernatural dichotomy is a contrived one). Not because it doesn’t “make sense.” Rather, I reject it for such reasons as: Joseph Smith is obviously a poor interpreter of the Bible. There’s no archaeological evidence for Book of Mormon locations, and not even questions for discussion, as with even the most questionable Biblical archaeological sites. And so on.

Actually, “it makes sense” doesn’t wash as a criteria in these settings, because ultimately, this is Hume’s abject failure again: “Makes sense” is subjective. When appeal is made to counter-intuitive and counter-factual claims, the point is not so much that nothing “makes sense” without the Resurrection to explain them, but that the Resurrection offers the best explanation for the facts.

Proof positive: These guys never learn. More examples tomorrow.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Why Johnny Shouldn't Read

We recently noticed (hardy har har) that John Loftus (aka Voldemort) has issued a new “challenge” for 2011 in which he suggests twelve books for Christians to read to “test your faith to see if it can withstand our arguments.” It’s a joke in more ways than one, as most of John’s posts are.

The lesser joke is that 3 of the 12 recommends are John’s own books, including one yet to be published (but which will be available by later in 2011). Anyone who has heard John recite “buy my book” on TheologyWeb knows that there’s a little more to the recommend here than John being a kind soul who wants to help you “test your faith”.

The major joke, though, is this: Take out the one book yet to be published (John assigns it for September), that leaves 11. Three books are on subjects outside my scope (evolution and theistic proofs).

That leaves 8. And you know what? I’ve written complete refutations of all eight – in some cases, as an editor. (Yes, I include here Paul Tobin’s book; though I have not addressed him directly, I have addressed all of the same arguments he uses.)

It’s funny in other ways as well. John says he recommends books in opposition
to “blog posts” and “sound bites”. Yet John has been the master of the sound bite ever since I first lanced that boil he calls his brain when he came traipsing onto TheologyWeb. When I first tagged him with a detailed refutation – page by page – of his initial book, I was accused of not seeing the forest for the trees – and he refused to debate any of my counterpoints.
You think John cares about your faith? Only as far as it fattens his wallet when you buy his books.

I’ll close this one with some comments on some of John’s recommends.

For March, he lists Michael Martin’s The Case Against Christianity. Good choice, John. Martin is such an ignoramus that he actually thinks “Jesus didn’t exist” is a good argument, and that Jesus’ command against “swearing” was a prohibition of profanity (it was actually to do with taking oaths). Martin is an embarrassment to atheists and could only improve his reputation by donning a clown suit and appearing on the green at Boston U. to admit that all of his books were pranks.

For June, John recommends Hector “Crybaby” Avalos’ The End of Biblical Studies. Hector, too, is a joke, for no other reason if any than that he took thinks “Jesus didn’t exist” is a reasonable viewpoint.

For October, John recommends Ehrman’s Jesus Interrupted as “my favorite Ehrman book.” Quite understandable. Ehrman is at his most disingenuous in this book, and if there’s anything John loves, it’s dishonesty.

I have my own challenge for John and his readers – it’ll be over on the Ticker today.