Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Devil Made Me do it

Have you ever wondered what Satan’s motivation would be?

According to standard Christian dogma, God decides to make some eternal servants--known to us humans as “angels”—and the No. 1 Servant (Lucifer) decides he can stage a coup d’etat and take over God’s position. Of course Lucifer fails, God castigates him to the role of villain, and for millennium thereafter the two bicker and argue. It is all very Greek Tragedy.

Lucifer…or Satan as we shall call him…enters the Garden of Eden with God’s permission and mucks things up for every human thereafter. Satan gets into a bet over Job, and tempts Jesus. Ever since faithfully assuming the role and blame of being Enemy No. 1 on God’s list.

But why would Satan mess around tempting humans, getting involved in human affairs, etc? Look…he would know the book of Revelation as well as we do. It is not some secret code; some hidden language only “true Christians” can read and we have cleverly kept secret from Satan and his spies for the past 2000 years. Satan has read “Left Behind.”

In the end, he is going in the Lake of Fire along with the rest of us heathens. Contrary to popular cartoons, Satan (according to Christian dogma) will not rule Hell. He will not be in charge. He will not be enjoying Jack Chick Torture with sadistic fetish. He will be screaming and whining along with the rest of us heathens.

And Satan…who already tried to take on God once, and has been around since the very beginning…would know this. He doesn’t get reduced time for the more souls that join him; he doesn’t get credit for fewer people in heaven. He does not get more people to rule, the larger the census in hell. He gets the chop with us.

[If some Christian wants to argue Satan thinks he can take on God and win…one wonders what good humans will do in this effort. Does he get a nuclear pitchfork every time an unbeliever dies?]

Oh sure, maybe for the first few centuries, he may have tried to convert a few just to piss God off…but what fun in that? Satan played his biggest trump card in the Garden—now every human is doomed by default to hell. Even better, human nature (again, according to Christian dogma) is such we have a propensity to do more evil.

Satan doesn’t have to do a thing. Heck, God even helps out by occasionally whacking off whole lots of evil people—babies and all—by genocide, tsunamis, earthquakes, flood, famine and volcanoes. Not to mention a war or two. It would be hard for Satan to keep up!

So why would Satan care about tempting humans? Even under Christian dogma…

I ask because Dr. Jones argues the Devil is portraying heaven as boring. That cartoon and modern media’s depiction of heaven, with St. Peter at the Gates, and clouds and harps and singing and time stretching out into tedious infinity is some nefarious plot on the Devil’s part to…I don’t know…keep people from relishing death?

Really? After tempting and observing humans for 1000’s of years (according to Christians) this is the best plan Satan can come up with?

Look, we don’t buy things because we find the competitor’s products undesirable; we buy things because we want them. “Don’t buy Fords—they are only meh.” No, no, no, no. “Buy OUR Car! It will make you Sexy! It will make you go fast! It will save you money!” The only time an advertiser demonstrates the shoddiness of a competitor is to immediately compare it to their own—“Look at how much stain is left when you use theirs; our product removed it better! Faster! Safer! Cleaner!”

If Satan is running down heaven, this is only half the job. The Devil would need to replace it with an alternative even better than heaven. Which got me to thinking…assuming arguendo there was a demi-god Satan, in competition with God, what would Satan do to keep as many people out of heaven as possible (assuming Satan had such a goal?)

What would I do?

Well…obviously one would need to develop on alternative religion. One that was close enough to the truth to sound legitimate, but not sufficient to get one into real heaven. One that claimed a greater reward than real heaven…with less work.

So first we would make it simple to get in. Not too simple—then no one would believe it. Further, make it a little uncertain, so humans keep reassessing their position and re-confirming the little thing they must do. Manufacturers long know the real money is in replacement parts; not just the original purchase.

Make the humans feel good about themselves to further solidify the belief. For example, create the concept of really, REALLY big sins, and as long as they are not doing those…why…the human is just fine. Be willing to mold with the times; as long as the person acts within the current societal norms, they qualify.

Never explicitly quantify a promise. Be opaque. Don’t say, “I will be there at noon on Tuesday;” say, “I am coming soon.” Don’t promise to heal them if they perform the correct ritual; explain you will comfort them. And if (Satan Forbid) they expect some response, make it so it is their fault when the response doesn’t arrive. They are too stupid, too insincere, desire the wrong things, too immature, too human.

Put the reward out of verification…only once you die you will have candy and health and love and peace and money and adulation and power and whatever you want.

In short…if I was Satan and I wanted to create an alternative religion to keep people out of heaven…I would create Christianity. The perfect placebo.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Book Review – Sherwin-White. Part Seven and Final

And so we come to the final chapter in the book. The one cited by Christian apologists most often. It is broken into two (2) sections—the first on Roman Citizenship (this is the third time Sherwin-White has discussed it) and the second on what he titles, “The Historicity of the Gospels and Graeco-Roman Historiography.”

I just finished an extremely long discussion regarding this section over at Grace and Miracles blog, and am thankful for that discussion to clarify my thoughts. First what Sherwin-White states (with my notations in brackets):

Another example. The internal synoptic divergences, such as arise in the narrative of the trial of Christ, are very similar to those that Roman historians meet in the study of the tribunate of Gaius Gracchus.

The objection will be raised to this line of argument that the Roman historical writers and the Gospels belong to different kinds of literature. Whatever the defects of our sources, their authors were trying to write history, but the authors of the Gospels had a different aim. Yet however one accepts form-criticism, its principles do not inevitably contradict the notion of the basic historicity of the particular stories of which the Gospel narratives are composed, even if these were not shored up and confirmed by the external guarantee of their fabric and setting. That the degree of confirmation in Graeco-Roman terms is less for the Gospels than for Acts is due, as these lectures have tried to show, to the differences in their regional settings. As soon as Christ enters the Roman orbit at Jerusalem [i.e. the Trial], the confirmation begins. For Acts, the confirmation of historicity is over-whelming. Yet Acts is, in simple terms and judged externally, no less of a propaganda narrative than the Gospels, liable to similar distortions. But any attempt to reject its basic historicity even in matters of detail must now appear absurd. Roman historians have long taken it for granted.
What to an ancient historian is most surprising in the basic assumption of form-criticism of the extremer sort, is the presumed tempo of the development of the didactic myths—if one may use that term to sum up the matter. We are not unacquainted with this type of writing in ancient historiography, as will shortly appear. The agnostic type of form-criticism would be much more credible if the compilation of the Gospels were much later in time, much more remote from the events themselves, than can be the case. Certainly a deal of distortion can affect a story that is given literary form a generation or two after the event, whether for national glorification or political spite, or for the didactic or symbolic exposition of ideas. But in the material of ancient history the historical content is not hopelessly lost.

Herodotus enables us to test the tempo of myth-making, and the tests suggest that even two generations are too short a span to allow the mythical tendency to prevail over the hard historic core of the oral tradition.

The impression of historical tradition is nowhere more strongly felt than in the various accounts of the trial of Christ, analysed in Roman terms in the second lecture. Consider the close interdependence of Mark and Matthew, supplementing each other even in particular phrases, yet each with his particular contribution, then Luke with his more coherent and explicit account of the charges and less clear version of the activity of the Sanhedrin, finally John, who despite many improbabilities and obscurities yet gives a convincingly contemporary vision of the political pressure on Pilate in the age of Tiberius.

Taking the synoptic writers quite generally as primitive historians, there is a remarkable parallel between their technique and that of Herodotus, the father of history, in their anecdotal conception of a narrative. [emphasis added]

As we have seen throughout this review, Sherwin-White’s method is arguing by example—he makes an argument, and then finds an example supporting this argument. Of course, the huge error in doing so is that it only takes one (1) counter-example to undermine the argument!

It was pointed out to me that Dr. Richard Carrier addresses Sherwin-White’s claims in The Empty Tomb: (again my clarifying thoughts in brackets)

To be exact, Sherwin-White never used the word ‘legend’ in the chapter [where Sherwin-White discusses historicity in documents and myth development] Craig quotes. Nor does he [Sherwin-White] discuss the empty tomb narrative, or any miracle at all—his [Sherwin-White’s] remarks are confined solely to the trial of Jesus. In this context [the chapter on general historicity and myth development timing] Sherwin-White talks mainly about ‘myth’ (pp. 189,190, 191, 193), case sometimes as ‘propaganda’ (pg. 186), ‘contradictions’ (p. 188), ‘falsification’ (p191), the ‘didactic or symbolic exposition of ideas’ (p. 189), or ‘deliberate…embroidery’ (p. 193), all of which he [Sherwin-White] admits can arise within two generations. He [Sherwin-White] generally has in mind any false story, of whatever origin, that is later believed to be true. Yet his [Sherwin-White’s] argument from Herodotus rests merely on a single case, and even that contains the full admission that a legend was widely believed true at the time. The only difference is that Herodotus challenges it as he [Herodotus] did many claims. But we have not even a single example of such a method or approach being employed by the Gospel authors; they never challenge or even question anything they report, and unlike Herodotus they never once name a single source, or consciously weigh the evidence for or against any claim.

“Thus the analogy with Herodotus fails. The Gospel writers are much more akin to the people who believed the legends, than they are to a careful crucial historian like Herodotus himself, who often doubts them. And yet even Herodotus believed without question many obvious legends (as we shall see), a point Sherwin-White curiously neglects to mention, probably because it would have undermined his argument for the historicity of Christ’s trial. Worst still, Sherwin-White’s one case study [of Herodotus] is so dissimilar to the empty tomb story that no analogy can be drawn between them, and thus it is inappropriate for Craig to employ it in such a way. [emphasis in the original]

An analogy to Sherwin-White’s method: “Cars do not rust within two years. Here is a two-year-old Ford with no rust.” This claim is proven incorrect by one (1) car less than two years old with rust. It only takes one counter-example to undermine the argument. (Why it is such a poor method to begin with.)

Conforming to his typical methodology, Sherwin-White claims “even two generations are too short a span to allow the mythical tendency to prevail over the hard historic core of the oral tradition” and then provides the example of Herodotus and Hipparchus.

Carrier provides numerous counter-examples. Including examples within Herodotus, examples with the contemporary writer Josephus, and examples with other historical events—Saint Genevieve and Roswell.

“Here’s a rusty one-year-old car; here’s a rusty one-year-old car; here’s a rusty one-year-old car.”

(Craig’s claim Herodotus made numerous other mythical accounts [and Sherwin-White was aware] only hurts Sherwin-White’s method; it doesn’t help it! Being aware of counter-examples is insufficient; one must address the counter-example!

“Sure Herodotus also claimed PLENTY of cars less than two-years-old had rust.”)

It gets worse. Carrier points out, even in the Herodotus example Sherwin-White utilized, there were counter-examples—legends arising surrounding the Hipparchus’ murder—and that Herodotus’ ability to maintain historicity in the face of these myths is the exception. to the legend. What about the very counter-example in the same account?

“Herodotus was able to pick out the two-year-old Ford without rust amongst all the rusty two-year-old cars.”

It gets even worse. Carrier points out the gospels correlate closer to legendary accounts than Herodotus’ historical accounts:

1) Herodotus challenges conventional legend; the gospels make no challenges.
2) Herodotus names sources; gospels do not.
3) Herodotus weighs evidence; gospels do not.
4) Event in Herodotus’ city; Gospel accounts not in author’s city.
5) Inscription regarding the actual history existed; gospels have no such inscription.
6) Herodotus consciously wrote history; Mark’s Gospel is more akin to didactic hagiography.

“The gospels are 1978 Datsuns, and Herodotus picked out a ’78 Ford amongst ’78 Toyota’s. Toyota’s are more similar to Datsuns than Fords.”*

*The late 70’s Japanese cars were notorious for rust issues.

In short, Sherwin-White (as typical) uses argument by example for this point. Carrier demonstrates how Sherwin-White fails to address counter-examples (made even worse by Craig’s emphasizing Sherwin-White knew counter-examples), fails to address the counter-example implicit in the example used, and fails to correlate the example to the documents in question to see if they parallel the example or the counter-example.

Now how Sherwin-White has been abused…

Christian Apologist authors have assumed, as style, taking quotes from perceived non-Christians to bolster their argument (presumably to claim lack of bias.) Any skeptic discussing the resurrection is certain to hear the Gerd Ludemann (a known atheist!) quote. Discuss Acts, and Sir William Ramsay will make his appearance. Crack open a creationist book; the quotes come spewing forth.

Poor Sherwin-White receives the same treatment. The rest of his book is discarded, overlooked or forgotten. (How many internet Christian apologists who cite Sherwin-White agree with his assessment on Quirinius? Or that Luke disagrees with Mark on the Sanhedrin and is probably incorrect?) But Sherwin-White is not blatantly writing a Christian apologetic book. He is a (perceived non-Christian) historian. And he writes this one itty-bitty line about timing, myth development and “hard historic core.”

Now the Christian apologist author can do what s/he always does: Take the quote from Sherwin-White, tack on some timing and…voila!—they have an “unbiased source” supporting their claim:

P1: Sherwin-White says two generations is ‘too short a span to allow the mythical tendency to prevail over the hard historic core.’
P2: Mark’s Gospel was written within 2 generations:
Conclusion: Jesus walked on water.


Conclusion: Jesus fed 5000.


Conclusion: Jesus’ Tomb was empty on Sunday.


Conclusion: [insert whatever one pleases]

That’s the con. The conclusion does not follow from the premises because the person is extrapolating far too much from Sherwin-White.

The question is this:

Define “hard historic core.”

Think about it; really contemplate it. It must be something that feasibly (under the Sherwin-White “formula”) will completely and utterly disappear in 3 or more generations. What could it be?

Or look at it another way. Take a myth, like Robin Hood. What is the “hard historic core” of Robin Hood? A brigand? A brigand good with a bow? A brigand, good with a bow who leads men? What requirements are there for the “hard historic core” within Robin Hood? At what point do we differentiate the Robin Hood story from other highwaymen?

Carrier raises this point admirably within the Roswell Alien story. What is the “hard historic core” in that story? Do you know? What was it causing people to believe a saucer crash landed? If there was an actual item from the sky, does that constitute a “hard historical core” not eliminated by years of alien stories?

See…this isn’t how myth-making works! Myths can take actual events and/or people and do one (or more) of three things:

1) Add;
2) Subtract: or
3) Modify.

How can we determine “hard historical core” when one can feasibly argue EVERY myth has a “hard historical core”? (Again, I would point out, under Sherwin-White, it must be something that could disappear in three or more generations, if this is a hard-and-fast formula.) Animals walk in the woods—BAM! Big Foot has a hard historical core. Pontius Pilate really governed in Judea—BAM! The Gospels have a hard historical core.

This is what I thought about Herodotus. What is the “hard historical core” in his fantastical stories? One could argue EVERY story has a historical core. There was Athens, hence the burned Olive tree has historical core. Troy fell, the Trojan horse has historical core.

Do you see what I mean? “Hard historical core” is sophistry giving no real definition and no insight.

This small sentence is “full of sound and fury. Signifying nothing.” I understand the Dr. Craig’s want to utilize it. We should ignore the con and ask this one question: Define “hard historic core” with specificity so we can see how it would be utterly lost by the third generation.

It is not how myth-making works. Sherwin-White is not to blame; those trying to bolster this sentence into a formula are.

The reason for this long (and dull) review was to once again dispel the claims made by Christian apologists, once brought to full light.

Friday, January 13, 2012

A blog on being Gay and Christian

I came across a blog entry , written by a fellow who is:

1) Christian.
2) Gay.
3) Celibate.
And I’d burn every earthly possession I have, empty my bank accounts, quit my job, and terminate every relationship I have for a pill to change over—in a heartbeat—I’d walk away from that pyre buck-naked, unemployed, broke, but straight.

But unlike my heroes of my youth, my secret identity clings to me and I am forced to hide from what is called to be most loving, compassionate place on the planet—the church.

When the basis for the morality—including the forbidding of homosexual acts—is so poor to begin with…it is human-made…I find it impossible to see how charity work performed by Christians out-weighs the abuse doled out by the same hands.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Book Review – Sherwin-White. Part Six

In Lecture Six, Sherwin-White enters the Galilean world, stating “The material of the Gospels is not capable of the sort of treatment that historians since [William] Ramsay have given to the Acts. From the Graeco-Roman point of view, this poses a problem.” Pg. 123. Sherwin-White then highlights certain aspects of the Gospels.

I found this the most interesting chapter by far.

First, he notes specific historical references are few, and (with one exception) are concentrated at the beginning and the end. The beginning with King Herod the Great, and the end with Pilate.

But even those references give us issue, as Sherwin-White indicates—the “reference to Herod and Archelaus [Herod’s son] keeps bad company in Mathew, is absent from Mark, and even in Luke is involved with the difficult question of Quirinius and his census.” Pg. 123. Sherwin-White will deal with Quirinius in a latter lecture. The sole exception in the middle is reference to Herod the Tetrarch of Galilee with John the Baptist (Matthew & Mark) and appearance four times in Luke.

Sherwin-White continues, “Not only are there no other precise historical cross-references inside the narrative, but he narrative of all three Gospels is largely devoid of other material references that might tie to the Roman period.” Pg 123. For example, the “centurion” with the palsied servant at Capernaum. (Matt. 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10). He can’t be a Roman centurion, Galilee was not part of Rome until 44 CE. But he is not Jewish either. Sherwin-White concludes (without providing us a reason) he is one of Tetrarch Herod’s soldiers who affected Roman terminology.

He then notes the various coins listed throughout the Gospels. Mark has Roman denarii and Roman quadrans. Matthew has Roman as, Greek didrachma and Greek stater. Luke has denarii, as, Greek drachmae, mina,and lepta. No wonder they needed money-changers in the temple! (Especially, as Sherwin-White notes, the Jewish Temple only took Jewish coins.)

Sherwin-White also discusses taxes, noting the peculiarity of tax-gatherers in Capernaum (Galilee) in Matthew 17:24-27. Curiously the term is ”cesum” (in Greek form) meaning a Roman tax, yet Galilee is not in a Roman province. Other authors have suggested this was a Jewish temple tax, but what is curious is Matthew has Peter obtain a sater--a Greek coin to pay the tax. It is possible the coin could be changed, but if Jesus was performing a miracle, why not get the Jewish coin in the first place?

Sherwin-White does not discuss this anomaly.

He goes on to discuss villages and cities, noting most villages were concern solely with internal affairs. Only a very few cities controlled (by governmental means) areas outside their specific walls. Sherwin-White notes Matthew and Luke “sadly confuse” the terms of city and villages.

By the way, Joesphus notes villages could consist of 15,000 people.

Sherwin-White contrasts the Roman city with the agricultural villages of Galilee in terms of government, topography, and “little kings.” By the end of the First Century (the conquest of Galilee and Judea) the area became more Roman in nature. Thus, Sherwin-White argues, the Galilean parables of Jesus regarding kings, servants and cities reflect a first century Palestine.

Sherwin-White provided interesting information in this chapter, despite Galilee and Jewish history being outside his expertise comfort.

Lecture Seven

Sherwin-White goes over some specifics regarding Roman Citizenship as a whole. Roman citizens obtained a proof of citizenship or registration of birth made before a magistrate and seven (7) witnesses. “Whether Romans carried such certificates about with them…we simply do not know. They were convenient in shape and size, being small wooden diptychs. But it is more likely that they were normally kept in the family archives.” Pg. 148-9. If they were not carried about, Sherwin-White speculates this could be a reason Paul rarely asserted his citizenship rights.

Sherwin-White concludes speculating how and when Paul’s family obtained its citizenship is a fruitless task.

He spends some time, going through Roman nomenclature, and how the various names in Acts do not provide much information as to the status, citizenship or class of individuals, due to lack of specifics. Again, Sherwin-White addresses various scholars’ opinions in this regard. A very dry topic in my opinion, with a great deal of “it is possible” and speculation.

Sherwin-White closes the lecture with a short section on Quirinius. “Luke dates the birth of Christ by connecting it with the census of Judaea taken, as is made abundantly clear in Josephus, when Sulpicius Quirinius was governor of Judaea after the annexation of the province in A.D. 6. This date conflicts with that of Matthew, who connects the nativity with the last years of Herod and the accession of Archelaus, ten years earlier. [4 BCE]. Luke’s date also conflicts with his own setting of the nativity of John in the ‘days of Herod the King of Judea.” PG. 163.

Sherwin-White dispenses with the apologetic Quirinus was governor of Syria twice—finding it lacks plausibility. He finds Luke is explicit with dates—such as Luke 3:1, “in the fifteenth year of Tiberius”—and believes Luke is equally deliberate with the dating of the birth. Sherwin-White says, “The taking of the Roman census in Judaea made a tremendous impact in Jewish history. The author of Luke cannot have been under any doubt or confusion when he selected that date. But its selection was a deliberate rejection of the tradition of Matthew, which connects the nativity with Herod and Archelaus.” Pg. 167.

All would be well and good, but Luke confuses the date with John the Baptist’s birth at the time of Herod.

Sherwin-White gives no solution to this problem, except saying Luke may be trying to “link” the Messiah’s birth to the last Messianic Prophet—John the Baptist. Sherwin-White concludes, “Luke should mean what he wrote.” Pg. 171. It would appear Sherwin-White would place Jesus’ birth in 6 CE, according to Luke, and decide it is beyond his acumen to find a way to explain the problem of Luke referring to John the Baptist being born around the same time, yet in a period 10 years later.

And this is typical Sherwin-White. Say one thing, note the counter argument and then “Harumph. Aren’t we glad that is settled?” leaving you to scratch your head as to what the conclusion is, or how he reached it.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Book Review – Sherwin-White. Part Five

Sherwin-White enters the next lecture about Paul’s various trips to cities, as recorded in Acts. The first anachronism Sherwin-White addresses is the question of how Paul could be beaten by authorities (Acts 16:22 & 2 Cor. 11:25) when Paul indicates it is unlawful to beat him as a Roman Citizen. (Acts 22:25).

Sherwin-White goes through a number of examples regarding various communities, their authorities and their jurisdiction to impose law. He notes it is possible authorities could exceed their powers and concludes, “the narrative agrees with the evidence of the earlier period that a Roman Citizen of any social class was protected against a casual beating (without trial), whereas the humiliores of the late empire had lost this protection.” Pg. 76 I had great difficulty following Sherwin-White’s analysis, nor how he came to this particular conclusion. I finally gave up.

Sherwin-White notes the charge in Philippi was in two forms: 1) causing a riot and 2) introduction of alien religion. However, Sherwin-White correctly indicate the official position of Rome was to prohibit certain religious practices, typically if such practices did not cause a disturbance, they were allowed to continue. With occasional crack-downs. This charge, Sherwin-White says, “…though it is unusual, it is not entirely unparalleled in Julio-Claudian usage.” (pg 82)

Sherwin-White states the procedure followed in Ephesus was that reminiscent of the first and Second Century. Acts does not show detailed knowledge of any other city, as compared to Ephesus. When discussing the other cities, Acts uses far less specifics, and general titles, rather than the correct term for Clerk of the City, etc. Although Acts is aware of the correct and fairly unusual title of Thessalonica’s city magistrates.

I found Sherwin-White quite dry at this point, in referring to these events. It did seem he generally wanted to favor Acts, rather than be critical. Where Acts was accurate, it was highlighted. Where Acts was not, it was excused.

The next Lecture dealt with Paul appearing before the proconsul Gallio. (Acts 18:12-17) Where the proconsul actually turns on the accusers and drives them out. Sherwin-White says, “It is not certain that the charge made against Paul at Corinth was intended to refer primarily to Hebraic Law, though Gallio found it convenient to take it that way….It is the way of Acts to summarize and at times to garble the charges variously brought against Paul.” Pg. 101

Sherwin-White responds to many claims by critics, including the lack of specific charges, and that we do not know a proconsul Gallio of Achaia. (It is unlikely such a minor official would be recorded within the histories we have.)

And finally, within this lecture, Sherwin-White addresses who Paul would see in his appeal to Rome. It is extremely unlikely he would have been taken to Nero himself, as Nero avoided all jurisdictional functions. He also addresses criticism regarding the two-year delay, concluding it was possible for such a delay to occur.

Curiously, Sherwin-White notes Seneca, one of Nero’s principal advisors, attempted to instill clemency in Nero, and states, “Perhaps Paul benefited from the clemency of Nero, and secured merely a casual release. But there is no necessity to construe Acts to mean that he was released at all.” (pg 119)

Sherwin-White gives us no information as to who Paul would have seen in Rome, or what would have happened to him.