How to argue like a Christian

Argue

If you’ve ever tried discussing matters of faith with a True Believer™, you’ll know how difficult it can be; like wrestling with a jellyfish – and just about as poisonous.

So here’s a guide for the unwary; 10 of their favourite lines (5 this time, 5 next), all of which I’ve experienced more times than I care to remember.

“You don’t know your Bible!”

Point out that Jesus’ ‘good news’ was nothing like Paul’s or that they were both wrong about the Kingdom arriving in the first century and this old canard gets trotted out. Even if you quote chapter and verse, a clear indication you do know the Bible, they still produce it. What they mean is ‘how dare you quote the bits of the Bible we true believers don’t like and prefer not to acknowledge.’

“You’re quoting out of context.”

I’ve posted about this one before. Seemingly as a sceptic you have no discernment when it comes to selecting Bible verses. How ever many you reference – one or a hundred – they will tell you it’s not enough; that you’ve not, somehow, caught the true meaning of what the Bible is saying, which is, naturally, what they say it means. Unsurprisingly. quoting isolated verses is something the Righteous themselves like to do all the time…

“The bible says…”

It doesn’t matter what point you make, this will appear somewhere in the Christian’s response, followed, of course, by some random verse from the book in question. Christians seem to regard it as the ultimate clincher, the way to silence any opponent, as if quoting the bible to those who recognise neither its credibility nor its authority persuades anyone of anything.

“You’ve no right to criticise Christianity when you can’t ‘prove’ how something came from nothing/how life arose/evolution.”

It’s unlikely anyone can explain these biggies in 140 characters or a Facebook comment, but we can direct those issuing the challenge to scientific works that offer viable theories soundly based on the evidence available. Needless to say our Christian smart-Alec is unlikely to read them, claiming instead that one’s inability to comprehensively explain the Big Bang or evolution ‘proves’ it must have been – watch the sleight of hand here – YHWH.

“‘People like you’ only want to wallow in your own sin (which is why you won’t let me have my own way).”

Now I like to wallow as much as the next man, but outside the Christian bubble, ‘sin’ is a fairly meaningless concept, designed only to induce guilt in others. Which means the point of this unpleasant finger pointing is to side-step any discussion and to dismiss whatever point you might want to make. What this retort really means is ‘you have an ulterior motive for saying what you’re saying and, in any case, your inherently evil nature doesn’t entitle you to have an opinion.’

More next time…

Faith by any other name (is still a waste of time)

celia3Faith; the brand name for ‘wishful thinking’. In what other area of life, other than the religious, do we have faith in faith? Christians like to say we do – we have faith, they say, in the pilot who’s controlling the aircraft we’re flying in, or we have it in the surgeon who’s operating on us. But this is not faith in the sense religious people usually use the term. ‘Faith’ in pilots, surgeons and even our own abilities is more like trust or confidence; trust that the pilot is qualified to fly the plane, confidence that the surgeon is trained and skilled or that we have the ability to complete the task we’ve set ourselves. This is not faith in the sense of ‘belief in things that can’t be seen and for which there’s no evidence’. It’s not faith in the sense of wishing and hoping there really is a God and that he cares enough about us to grant us eternal life, much in the manner of the magic fountains and wish-granting genies of folk tale.

Religious faith – Christian faith particularly – is of this latter kind. It’s not trust in a real person’s capabilities, be it our own or a specialist’s. It’s a blind belief in a God who evolved from being one tribal deity among many into the everlasting, omniscient creator of all things. A God who, if he did create everything, set us on the Earth together with viruses, microbes, infections, disease, sickness, cancer, AIDs and Alzheimer’s. A God who thought putting us in an environment so frequently hostile to our well-being on an insignificant planet in the corner of a vast and indifferent universe was just the right place for us.

This is a God who doesn’t seem to understand us but who is swift to punish us while he himself stands by as half of his favoured creation endures poverty, starvation and the cruelty of much of the other half. His ways are not our ways, believers say, making what they surely know is a flimsy excuse – the flimsiest – for his failure to interact with us in any meaningful way.

Faith is the wishful thinking that despite the evidence, this neglectful, capricious God really does care for us. He cares so much he has devised an illogical, incomprehensible plan (or two) that, with its blood sacrifice and magical overtones, we must believe if we want his forgiveness for the way he made us in the first place.

We need to have faith that this cosmic madman will bring us back to life us after we’ve died and take us to Heaven to live with him, but we must first have the right sort of belief, even if it’s difficult to work out what that is. Faith is necessary for all of this because there isn’t a scrap of evidence anyone has ever been returned to life after they’ve died, or that Heaven exists, or that anyone has ever gone there. That’s why it takes, not trust, but a great wallop of wishful thinking that this fantasy is not only real but more real than the reality in front of us.

As for me, I can’t believe any of it.

  – I can’t believe the claims of those who even today say they’ve seen or heard from God or Jesus or Mary, who reckon they’ve had visions the same way Paul or Peter, Joseph Smith or Mary Baker Eddy did.

  – I don’t believe those who say they almost died and went to Heaven, because what these visions of fantasy figures and make-believe places have in common is that they take place, so far as they occur at all, entirely within people’s heads.

  – I won’t believe that those who say all of this magic, hallucination and mumbo-jumbo is true because it’s in the Bible, when the creators of that book were men far more ignorant and superstitious than any reasonably educated person today.

  – I am unable to believe muddled nonsense that is designed to appeal to our vanity and fear of obliteration.

  – And I really don’t care that some say they get comfort, joy and morality from their belief; their morality no more derives from God as mine does from Superman and emotions don’t make any of it true.

So, faith – what good is it? If your answer is it enables you to believe the impossible, then isn’t it just another word for delusion?

 

 

 

Have Faith

reason

So there we were in court. First time I’d been on a jury. Pretty serious case too. If it went against the defendant, he’d be facing the death penalty. So I suppose it was pretty serious for him too.

First up was the arresting officer. ‘Oh, yes,’ he said. ‘I have every faith this guy’s the culprit.’

‘How much faith?’ said the judge. ‘Is it real, deep-down, sincere faith?’

‘Oh, yes,’ said the cop. ‘Really unshakeable, supernatural faith. That’s him okay. We’re not looking for anyone else. Genuine conviction, you see.’

‘Yes, I do see,’ the judge said. ‘And very commendable it is too.’

‘But…’ spluttered the guy in the dock.

‘Wait your turn,’ the judge snapped. ‘We gotta hear the expert testimony before we get to you.’

The expert took the stand. ‘I believe it was this guy,’ he said, pointing to the man in the dock. ‘Yes sir, I’m sure it was. I have a really good feeling about it. This is him, definitely.’

‘You really, really truly believe?’ the judge asked and the expert nodded. ‘Well, that’s good enough for me,’ the judge said. ‘So… anybody got anything to add before I pass sentence?’

‘Er, yeah,’ said he guy in the dock. ‘What about the evidence?’

‘The evidence?’ said the judge. ‘Who needs evidence when we’ve got all this belief, faith and deeply held conviction?’

‘Well,’ the guy said, ‘far be it from me to say so, but isn’t the evidence important?’

‘Important?’ snorted the judge, resulting in guffaws all around the courtroom, including from my fellow jurors.

‘Yes,’ said the accused. ‘Important evidence like my watertight alibi. Like the DNA and finger prints that weren’t mine. Like the CCTV footage. Like… that other guy’s confession.’

‘Oh, come on,’ said his defence lawyer jumping up. ‘We’ve been over this. It means nothing. What’s really important is what people believe. Faith, like the officer here said.’

‘Well,’ said the guy in the dock, ‘I have my doubts about that.’

‘Oh, but doubt is of the devil,’ said his lawyer, ‘It’s faith that matters – faith and right belief.’

‘That hardly seems reasonable to me,’ said the man. ‘After all, it’s my life that’s on the line here.’

‘Now you’re just being absurd,’ said the judge. ‘What has reason got to do with anything?’

‘But I thought…’ began the accused, looking more perplexed than ever.

‘We’re none of us here to think,’ said the judge, ‘least of all you. How many more times must we tell you? Faith is all that matters.’

‘Well,’ said the defendant doubtfully, ‘if you say so…’

‘Great!’ said the judge, jumping in quickly. ‘I’m glad you’ve finally seen the light.’ Then he turned to us, the jury, and said: ‘I’m going to direct you to find the defendant guilty. The belief and faith of those here today is all we need to convict him.’

So we did, and the judge passed the death sentence. The condemned guy didn’t seem too pleased and as they led him away, started yammering all over again about evidence. I guess some people never learn. But I mean, faith, belief, conviction – call ’em what you will – they trump evidence any day.

The God of Reason

god4

The next three posts will look at the claim Christians make for their God being the God of Reason. The fact that he is, they say, demonstrates how inconsistent those who see no evidence for a deity are when we use his very attributes – reason, logic and rationality – to make a case against him. Here’s Dr Jason Lisle on Answers In Genesis:

…there is an absolute standard for reasoning; we are to pattern our thoughts after God’s. The laws of logic are a reflection of the way God thinks… Laws of logic are God’s standard for thinking. Since God is an unchanging, sovereign, immaterial Being, the laws of logic are abstract, universal, invariant entities. In other words, they are not made of matter—they apply everywhere and at all times. Laws of logic are contingent upon God’s unchanging nature. And they are necessary for logical reasoning. Thus, rational reasoning would be impossible without the biblical God.

The materialistic atheist can’t have laws of logic. He believes that everything that exists is material—part of the physical world. But laws of logic are not physical… The atheist’s view cannot be rational because he uses things (laws of logic) that cannot exist according to his (Godless viewpoint).

Similarly, Tim Keller in his book The Reason for God argues that the fact humans can reason is evidence both of God’s existence (because reason has to come from somewhere) and of our being made in his image.

According to Christians then, God is the only reason we can think rationally at all.

But then where did God’s rationality come from? Is he pure reason or is reason an attribute he acquired or evolved over time as we did? As Richard Dawkins has pointed out, the only reasoning intelligence we know of is our own, and it is the product of evolution. If God’s ability to reason also evolved – and we know of no other way it could have developed – then he must intially have been incomplete. He could not have been the supreme intelligence Christians claim he is now. If, on the other hand, God is and always has been pure reason, there should be plenty of evidence for it. Let’s take look:

We first encounter God in the opening chapters of Genesis, where he puts two naked humans in a garden and tells them not to eat the fruit of a tree labelled ‘The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil’.* He sets this tree right where they can see it and then he leaves. The two people, who have no concept of right and wrong (that’s the point of the tree) each take a bite of its fruit. While taking his evening stroll in the garden, God discovers what they’ve done and is not best pleased. (I hope you’re getting just how logical all of this is.**)

This deity, who, according to Dr Lisle and Tim Keller is the epitome of logical reasoning, doesn’t then take the trouble to explain to his creations, ‘Look, I’m sorry I made you without a sense of right and wrong; I’ll put that right. But you’ve got to promise me you’ll do as I say from now on because you won’t like me when I’m angry.’ No, he doesn’t do this; instead he throws a hissy fit. He punishes the couple, who until they’d tried the fruit had no idea disobeying him was wrong, and, just for good measure, he trashes the rest of Creation too – forever. Because of a single act committed by two naive individuals who didn’t know any better, he ruins everything and then, irrationally, blames the humans for the mess he’s made. That’s his reasoned, reasonable and rational response to their upsetting him – which, if he was the omniscient being Christians tell us he is, he’d have known was going to happen anyway.

Of course the whole set up and God’s reactions are not rational, reasonable or logical at all. They’re not considered, proportionate or insightful either. The God of Reason, the God who is Reason according to Answers in Genesis and Tim Keller, scores on this, his first outing, zero points on the scale of reasoned, reasoning reasonableness.

Maybe though God was just having an off day and he improves later on, once his intelligence has evolved a bit more. We’ll find out next time.

 

* All my examples of God’s great thinking skills and ‘reasonableness’ are drawn from the Bible; there are, however, simply too many to reference throughout this series of posts. I would be happy to supply them to any who feel the need to see them.

** Yes, I’m aware it’s a myth but a) many Christians don’t and b) even as a myth the story seeks to address how humans became alienated from God, ironically by developing the capacity to think for themselves. 

 

Idiotic Stuff Jesus Said

JC&ManJust what did Jesus say? The Jesus Seminar and other scholars* conclude that only about 18% of the words attributed to him in the gospels are authentically his. They reach this conclusion because so much of what Jesus ‘said’ – 82% of his utterances – is demonstrably derived from elsewhere.

There were four major sources for his words, which I’ll discuss briefly here, providing an example of each. Bear in mind also that whatever the derivation of Jesus’ words, those we have today have been subject to, in their earliest days, an unreliable oral tradition, repeated copying and deliberate and accidental alteration. The earliest surviving ‘words of Jesus’ (a few fragments of the fourth gospel) date to a century after he lived.

1. The early church created a good deal of the Jesus narrative, making him say what was important to them. For example, ‘take, eat, this is my body,’ and ‘take, drink, this is my blood that is shed for you,’ is clearly a post-crucifixion perspective. While it appears in arguably the most Jewish of the gospels (Matthew’s) the idea of drinking blood, even symbolically, would have been, and remains, anathema to Jews, whose scriptures forbid it (Leviticus 17.10 -16). Jesus was an orthodox Jew; it was the Hellenised Paul who transplanted the pagan ritual into nascent Christianity. He relates in 1 Corinthians 11.23-26, written about 15 years before the first gospel, how his wholly imaginary ‘Christ’ told him of this bizarre activity. Once established in the early church, Jesus then had to be made to endorse it and it was written back into the gospels.

2. The gospel writers (or others) invented dialogue for him. His entire conversation with Pilate, for example, is invented not once but four times, the encounter being rendered differently in all four gospels. It is probable that the entire scenario is fiction, given the likelihood the excessively cruel Roman governor would even entertain the idea of questioning a seditious nobody himself. And then there’s the ‘I am’ statements of John’s Jesus that I considered here.

3. The gospel writers altered difficult sayings into something more palatable. For example, in Matthew 15.24 Jesus says he was ‘sent only to the lost sheep of Israel’ (my italics). By the end of the same gospel, as well as in Luke and John, this has become a commandment to ‘make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit’ (Matthew 28.19). So which was it? Was the message exclusively for Jews or was it for all? It suited early churches, filled with non-Jews, that the gospel was for everyone, just as Paul had argued. Jesus’ words to the contrary – even if they were sufficiently widely known to have had to be included in Matthew’s original account – needed to be amended. Who amended them and when we shall never know, but it was certainly after the idea of the Trinity had taken hold.

4. Statements Jesus actually made. The Jesus Seminar regards as authentic sayings such as:

If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also (Matthew 5.39)

If anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well (Matthew 5.40)

Love your enemies (Luke 6.27)

Blessed are you who are poor for yours is the Kingdom of God (Luke 6.20) [changed in Matthew’s gospel to the less radical ‘poor in spirit’!]

If anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile (Matthew 5.41)

As inspiring as these might initially appear, they actually mean very little; they’re either prophecies that didn’t come to pass, impractical moral expectations or pseudo-spiritual homilies. And how much of this advice, these admonitions, do today’s Christians follow? You’d be hard pushed to find many that do. After all, following Jesus doesn’t entail doing what he says.

* I have used Robert W. Funk et al‘s The Five Gospels (HarperOne, 1997), Simon Loveday’s The Bible For Grown-Ups (Iconbooks, 2016) and Mark Allan Powell’s rather less impartial The Jesus Debate (Lion, 1998) for this post

Silence of Mind

ThinkerThe anonymous blogger over on Silence of Mind, (we’ll call him ‘SoM’) is arguing that Christianity is responsible for Western civilisation. He does so even though others have pointed out to him that the essential elements of a civilised society – democracy, the rule of law, moral codes, mathematics, scientific enquiry, medicine, education, art, literature and architecture – were all evident in human societies millennia before Christianity emerged.

SoM goes further, however, insisting that Western culture owes its existence solely to Christianity. He doesn’t demonstrate how this is so; he is content to assert that it is. He is, of course, confusing correlation with causation, failing to recognise that Christianity’s involvement in the development of Western society does not mean it was the cause.

Having reach this insupportable conclusion, SoM makes an even greater leap of faith by declaring that because the Christian faith created civilisation as we know it – we’ll ignore, as he does, the church’s suppression of so much that is integral to a civilised society during the ‘dark ages’ – then Jesus must therefore be God. Here’s how he puts it:

1. Jesus established the Christian religion.

2. Christianity became the religion that spawned Western Civilization.

3. Western Civilization is the only civilization in human history to have developed modern science.

4. Modern science proved the existence of God

5. Since only God can reveal God, Jesus of Nazareth must be God.

So wrong in every respect:

1. Jesus did not establish the Christian religion. Paul did.

2. Christianty did not spawn Western civilisation (see above).

3. Western civilisation is not the only one to have developed science, and where it has emerged has often been in spite of religion, not because of it.

4. Science certainly has not ‘proved’ the existence of God. It has no interest in the so-called ‘supernatural’ nor, indeed, in ‘proving’ anything. It is significant that none of the explanations science has arrived at require the involvement of a god.

5. ‘Since only God can reveal God, Jesus of Nazareth must be God’ is a non-sequitur; it doesn’t follow from anything that has gone before, as flawed as all of the previous assertions are. What SoM is claiming here is that because “1, 2, 3 and 4 are the case (though I have failed to demonstrate they are and in fact they are not), then A must equal B”.

In the end, SoM’s ‘argument’ is the same as saying that because there is a place called Greece, Zeus must really exist. Or because there are tea-shops, we can be certain Bertrand Russell’s teapot is orbiting the sun, forever just out of sight.

As proof of the divinity of Jesus, the argument from the scientific and cultural achievements of the West has to be one of the worst. All arguments (and SoM’s assertions can hardly lay claim to the term) that attempt to demonstrate how an abrasive, inconsistent zealot from a Palestinian backwater was secretly the God of the Universe are equally worthless while God himself remains unproven, as he always must.

This is why believing anything about him and about Jesus’ supposed divinity is called ‘faith’. If it were possible to prove the things held on faith, then faith wouldn’t be necessary. But it is, because believing the impossible and the unprovable can only be managed by by-passing and, yes, silencing the mind’s critical faculties.

It was all just a dream…

Stone2Perry Stone, self-styled prophet, evangelist and teacher is of the view that God provides dreams and visions to his followers. He does this, apparently, when he can’t think of a better way of communicating them. Perry recommends that those on the receiving end of God’s special messages should immediately wake up and quickly write down what their dream was about. If they don’t, they’ll forget it! Who knew we can’t always recall dreams once we wake up? Who knows how to wake up as soon as a dream is over? Perry has big drawings made of his own God-delivered dreams. Here’s one. See if you can guess what it was about:

Stone1

Yes, it was a warning about 9/11. The Lord gave it to Perry, in a dream, long before the 2001 attack.

You can’t see it? You think five tornadoes and the monolith from 2001: A Space Oddysey look nothing like 9/11? Shame on you! You need to take this more seriously. You’re thinking, aren’t you, that Perry’s dream, if he had it at all, was down to the cheese he’d eaten before going to bed. That and a deranged mind.

But you’d be wrong; Perry knows for certain his dream was from God and that his interpretation is right on the mark. And who are we to doubt it? Curious, though, that even though the Lord had warned him about the attack in advance, Perry neglected to tell anyone about it. I wonder why that was? God must have wondered too – why he’d entrusted such an important message to a dimwit who did nothing with it. (Then again, if the Lord is capable of inducing dreams why didn’t he speak directly to the terrorists to prevent them from doing what they did?)

Still, good ol’ Perry’s made up for lost time since and is now more than happy to tell the rubes everyone about his dreams. And so what if it makes him a few million dollars? Frenetic Perry has a significant following on TBN and on his own web-site, which is where you can buy his dream-world DVDs for as little as $45 a set.

Nut-jobs’ dreams and visions have been at the centre of religious belief since forever. Dreams are significant, or so it’d have us believe, in the Old Testament where there are at least two dozen ‘important’ ones, together with advice about their interpretation (Job 33.15-18, for example). They’re quite a presence in the Qur’an too.

In fact, dreams and their waking equivalent, visions, are ultimately what religion is made of. They’re certainly what Christianity is made of; Joseph, the Magi, Pilate’s wife, Peter and Paul all have deeply meaningful dreams while Peter, Paul, John and others have visions which, they persuade themselves, can only be the monolith from 2001 Jesus returned from the dead, and other fanastic nonsense. The authors of the New Testament attached such importance to converts’ dreamy/visionary experiences that they had them written back into the Jesus narrative itself. That way it sounded like Jesus knew when he was alive that later fanatics would think they could sense his presence (especially when they whipped themselves up together) and could experience him in dreams and visions. Still today there are those who convince themselves they have a ‘relationship’ with him and can see him in their dreams, near-death experiences and other hallucinations. Just ask Perry Stone. It’s all real!

Well, as real as things entirely in the mind can be.

Same as it ever was…

Paul2

(Edited for clarity 2nd Aug)