May 11, 2011

Flying Zombie Feast

Posted in fiction, film, scripture at 3:59 pm by Jerry

Have your cameras ready because the May 21st Flying Zombie Feast is getting closer!

Yes, I said, “Flying Zombie Feast“. Because, as exciting as it will be to “meet the Lord in the air”, little is being said about who else will be there with the Lord…

1 Thess.4:16-17: For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and THE DEAD IN CHRIST WILL RISE FIRST. Then we who are alive and remain will be CAUGHT UP TOGETHER WITH THEM IN THE CLOUDS to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.

Yes, always. An eternal kingdom of the undead. Have fun with that.

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November 2, 2010

I Think I’ve Already “Found” My Life

Posted in atheism, family, fatherhood, film, friends, marriage, scripture, songs, theology at 8:57 am by Jerry

Every now and then I end up mentioning the valuable point that its reasonable to require evidence for the existence of a “God” before praying to this God, much less believing this God exists. And still, this point is so easily brushed away in my encounters, as if it has nothing to offer. Instead, I get hypothetical scenarios like, “But what if God did make his existence a matter of fact for us all? What then? How would you respond to his existence?”

Well, there’s so many questions I could come up with, questions I’d like to ask God. In fact, there’s so many that my list of questions would probably outlast my lifespan. But, if God were to turn to me and others, saying the same kinds of things written in the Christian bible, like:

“Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. “For I came to SET A MAN AGAINST HIS FATHER, AND A DAUGHTER AGAINST HER MOTHER, AND A DAUGHTER-IN-LAW AGAINST HER MOTHER-IN-LAW; and A MAN’S ENEMIES WILL BE THE MEMBERS OF HIS HOUSEHOLD. “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. “And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. “He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.”

Matthew 10:34-39 NASB

…And if God were to turn to me and others, saying, ‘It’s not your questions that will eventually decide your destiny, its your loyalty. So, are you with me or against me?’ …how would I respond?

Well, it’s hard to say I know exactly how I would respond in the future. However, I can’t help but think there would be a strong possibility that I would love others more than I would love God. And even if God managed to be my greatest love (which sounds so strange from a materialist’s point of view), if any of those whom I love just a little less than God choose not to be loyal to God, and therefore eventually are separated from this Kingdom of God that I’d be living in, how could I be satisfied with such a separation? How could I be content while being separated from those who I still have so much love for? (And God better not suggest to wipe away all my memories of them. THAT would piss me off!)

So, if this God does exist, and eventually reveals himself to all, there’s a strong possibility that I wouldn’t forsake my life for a life with him. Because, the more I think about it, the more I think that I have indeed “found” my life. My life is with those closest to me, those whom I love the most. And, based on 30 years experience of loving “God”, I think the earthly love I’m able to experience is far greater than any kind of love I could have for God. So, instead of an eternity of mediocre love with a supreme spirit while being separated from the love of others I care about, I’ll take the greatest kind of love I’ve ever experienced within a mere human lifespan. And with these loved ones, like the song goes… “Forever is our today”.

*This video is about warrior (sword wielding) immortals outliving those they love, those closest to them. (It’d be great if this video above manages to stay available. The song suits the post and I’ve been enjoying my second time through the Highlander TV series, too.)

October 24, 2010

Where Science and Theology Collide

Posted in atheism, science, scripture, theology at 10:32 pm by Jerry

…The words NATURAL and RANDOM are not meant to exclude an intelligent agent: they are meant to accurately describe the process. The fact that gods become redundant is a side effect of the power of evolutionary explanations. All of our observations of evolution are adequately explained by random chance as the dominant force in our history, with directionality and function conferred by local, short term adaptation. There is no teleological force. There is no evidence of divine or even intelligent intervention in our past. Is this smart theology? To promote the counterfactual and unsupportable? It’s cunning and weird and increases the complexity of the model to postulate imaginary and unexaminable forces, but it doesn’t make it right.

…This “monogenism” is apparently an important (and sophisticated!) assertion. It’s an insistence on the idea that Adam and Eve were unique, real, and literal individuals and that the entire human race is directly descended from them with no other contribution from other individuals of that time. Some are fine with the idea that Adam and Eve were themselves the product of evolution and had non-human ancestors, while others insist that they had to have been divinely and magically created without parents, but at some point in time the Catholic god set these two, and only these two, people apart, bestowed them with souls, and set them to work procreating to generate the entirety of the human species.

That’s some genetic bottleneck. One pair. That’s it. Talking about populations defies sophisticated Catholic theology.

Unfortunately for them, it also defies population genetics and again violates the principles of evolutionary biology. Evolution is precisely about changes in populations over time, not individuals, and furthermore, a relatively recent bottleneck in genetic diversity that narrow would be apparent in our genomes. When you get right down to it, it turns out that Catholics are not supposed to accept evolution — they are only expected to embrace a superficial and literally falsified version of evolution that strips out the entirety of its mechanism.

…They also declare that Adam and Eve were real people and the sole progenitors of the human race, for exactly the same reason: original sin. Christian doctrine is built on the notion that all people are intrinsically guilty and sinful, and the specific crime they are guilty of is the act of disobedience by Eve described in the book of Genesis. While much of the rest of Genesis can be treated as poetic metaphor by Catholics, that ‘fact’ must be indisputable — we’re all sinners because Adam and Eve broke the rules in the Garden of Eden.

I know. Inherited guilt is absurd, but that’s how sophisticated theology works.

Why do Catholics have to prop up this concept of original sin? Because Jesus’s sacrifice makes no sense if it wasn’t done to atone for a universal crime. We all must have inherited that sin, or some of us are innocent and Jesus was irrelevant to us. Can’t have that! That would mean we weren’t subject to the domain of Christianity.

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October 23, 2010

I Wish Believers Had Faith In…

Posted in church, culture, film, marriage, psychology of religion, scripture, theology at 8:03 pm by Jerry

I wish believers had faith that same sex attractions were not sinful.

I wish they had faith that same sex marriage is righteous, Godly, beautiful.

I wish they had faith that wherever the bible seems to stand on a committed same sex romance, someday, God would reveal to biblical scholars and theologians that same sex marriage is God’s plan.

I wish believers had faith in THIS kind of love.

History and Biblical Scholarship

Posted in history, religion, scripture at 3:48 pm by Jerry

In one respect, history is at a serious disadvantage with respect to the hard sciences. When a chemist or physicist makes a hypothesis, we can perform repeated experiments to prove whether the hypothesis is false (or falsifiable, for that matter). Historical events occur once and are lost to the past. We have no direct access to the past, only the recollections of others. So even in the best of cases, we can only establish high probability. You would think that being stuck with late, contradictory, anonymous and pseudonymous sources would make Bible scholars more cautious. You’d be wrong.

Biblical scholarship is the only sub-field of history in which I’ve heard actual scholars use the term “innocence of the text” and accuse others of being “too skeptical.” It’s the only sub-field in which scholars feel obliged to publicly state that they don’t discount supernatural events, as if not believing in miracles and magic would be grounds for dismissal. (I know of no Homeric scholars who feel compelled to say they’re not sure whether Athena appeared on the field of battle at Troy.)

NT scholars are an even rarer breed. They take literary relationships and turn them into historical relationships. They transform plausible scenarios into hard facts. They create source documents out of thin air. They imagine an oral tradition that goes on for 40 years, but still contains factual information. They ostracize dissenters and then ask why they don’t get published in respected journals. Ask yourself, why did Earl Doherty have to self-publish a monumental work like Jesus: Neither God nor Man? Why did Thomas L. Thompson have to leave the U.S. and find a teaching position in Copenhagen? Why is it that Robert M. Price, a man with two earned PhDs, can’t find a position in any American university?

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Using Hearsay as Historical Facts

Posted in history, religion, science, scripture at 3:23 pm by Jerry

Imagine a detective beginning with a hearsay account of a murder, and without knowing who made this assertion, and without any empirical evidence that there was a murdered victim, or that the said person had even existed, yet proceeded to seriously investigate the hearsay claims, apply criteria of embarrassment and dissimilarity to that unsourced assertion, and on that basis bring charges against someone in court!

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August 31, 2010

Loved these Questions about the Jesus Stories

Posted in history, literature, scripture at 5:24 am by Jerry

And no-one thought to write any of these down for at least 40 years after his death? And even then they could only find a handful of stories to record. And even then they had to model these on Old Testament narratives anyway, and not describe a life that was so awe-inspiring as it happened without resort to such literary clothing?

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May 27, 2010

not so Good but definitely Ol’ Absolute Morality

Posted in atheism, film, history, philosophy, politics, religion, scripture at 10:41 am by Jerry

April 29, 2010

More on the Lack of Basic/Public Facts for the Historical Jesus

Posted in culture, history, religion, scripture at 9:21 am by Jerry

Historians of nonbiblical topics start with public facts. HJ historians start with NO public facts at all. They attempt to create these basic facts with tools that were designed to discover something else.

HJ scholars start with a cultural figure, and a set of documents that our cultural heritage has exalted to authoritative status. No-one knows who wrote them, or when, or for whom. They can speculate, with educated guesses, but no more. Cultural heritage — nothing else — has informed us that they are indeed some sort of attempt, however unreliable, to record some sort of historical event about an historical person.

Contrast the tools used by nonbiblical historians. The Magna Carta, the Ems telegram, Caesar’s and Cicero’s writings, epigraphy. We can have varying levels of knowledge or reasonable beliefs about these documents, but they all constitute public facts. Their nature is verifiable and the facts to which they testify are indisputable basics of historical enquiry. It is from such documents — from the public facts they are evidence for — that we can begin to ask more complex questions about other events that were related to these.

But HJ historians start with nothing but the cultural authority of a set of documents, and proceed to apply tools meant to uncover secondary facts to discover primary basic public facts. They can’t. The tools are not designed for that work, and are designed to uncover only “facts” that will always be debatable or subject to revision.

In other words, HJ historians are walking on air. They have no basic and public facts with which to start any truly historical enquiry.

They have only faith in the assumptions of a certain cultural heritage.

Historians do not have to “think they can prove” that there was a battle of Hastings and it happened in 1066, or “think they can establish that” Captain Cook sighted the east coast of Australia in 1770. As to the reasons for William invading England, or the complex immediate and other reasons Cook was sent on his mission in the first place, are all matters of historical enquiry. They know they can. The evidence is public and indisputable. It is the known basic facts that prompt the historical enquiry in the first place.

Historical enquiry begins with basic and public known and indisputable facts that will never go away. It then attempts to build on these facts with historical tools.

HJ enquiry begins with no facts, but attempts to create its basic facts with tools that are designed to yield questionable and debatable results. And worse, it applies these tools to a document that has no more verification as a historical source than conventional wisdom.

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April 24, 2010

Gospel Narratives Lack Basic Historical Facts

Posted in history, literature, mythology, non-fiction, scripture at 5:52 am by Jerry

Here’s a few pieces from a response to a chapter in Scott McKnight’s book and an article of his in Christianity Today:

HJ scholars have NO basic facts to start with

To repeat: Nonbiblical historians begin with basic and public facts (that are certain and nondebatable) and move on from those to discover more complex and private facts that are less certain and more debatable than the original primary facts. Historical Jesus historians begin with no basic and public facts. They begin with an unprovenanced narrative that contains much myth and literary artifice, and from which they attempt to create their own basic and public facts by means of exegesis. But the basic and public facts so created are as uncertain and debatable as the secondary facts of nonbiblical historians.

In other words, historical Jesus scholars have no objective, existential raw materials with which even to begin to attempt a legitimate historical enquiry.

Historians have corroborated sources and primary evidence for Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great. They have nothing but assumption in the case of Jesus. The Gospel narratives cannot be corroborated as history. Conclusions of exegesis are entirely dependent on the skills and interests of the historian. Exegesis of such documents can never produce an existential or basic real Fact…

Christian “historians” preach a hermeneutics of Love for the Gospel to find facts

Some HJ scholars attempt to substitute a “hermeneutics of love” or “trust” in the absence of external corroboration for their Gospel narrative. Whereas other historians (and everyone else) seek external corroboration to verify reports or narratives, McKnight, Bauckham, and others know they cannot match this basic common-sense approach, so complain that this standard is too “sceptical” and call it a “hermeneutics of suspicion”. This means that the HJ historian must take the Gospel narrative on trust at some level as a genuine attempt, again at some level, to convey real history. McKnight explains the Christian morality behind this:

I contend that a hermeneutics of suspicion is fundamentally at odds with the Christian gospel, which is what a theological discipline is most concerned with. In other words, what a  Christian needs is not a hermeneutics of suspicion but, as Alan Jacobs brilliantly presents, a “hermeneutics of love” or a “hermeneutics of trust”. (p.36)

Would they use the same trust or love for sources other than the canonical Gospels? Would they ask Christian judges in courtrooms to apply the same hermeneutic to any uncorroborated testimony? …

So where does this leave the “facts” used by the historians of Jesus?

McKnight believes that most historical Jesus scholars go along with the essence of this view of what they are doing (p. 15, Jesus and His Death). They see themselves as discovering facts and what those facts mean, and thus adding to an ever widening single knowledge base about Jesus incrementally.

But in historical Jesus studies facts are not incremental, and explanatory theories multiply, not decrease. Newly discovered facts do not augment established data. New “facts” are created to compete against other “facts”. If Jesus cleansed the temple, here are some “facts” to show that it was to declare that its days were numbered (Sanders). No it wasn’t. It was to speak up for the poor (Crossley). Hang on, I don’t think we can say it is a fact that Jesus cleansed the Temple at all (Fredrikson, Mack). This situation testifies loudly that the very preliminary “facts” in historical Jesus studies are nothing like the “facts” that other historians speak of — e.g. that the battle of Hastings took place in 1066, that the first atomic bomb was dropped on the civilian population of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. McKnight, as we have seen above, exposes exactly where such biblical “facts” come from — exegesis of the Gospels…

What of the sources we use?

Elton writes a warning for amateur historians:

Historical research does not consist, as beginners in particular often suppose, in the pursuit of some particular evidence which will answer a particular question; it consists of an exhaustive, and exhausting, review of everything that may conceivably be germane to a given investigation. Properly observed, this principle provides a manifest and efficient safeguard against the dangers of personal selection of evidence. (p. 60)

Many historical Jesus historians do, at times, apply this principle. But when confronted with alternative paradigms, such as that of Price, Thompson, or Doherty, they do not address the questions raised accordingly, but respond like amateurs by casting around to find a rebuttal with scattered pieces of particular evidence which they think will answer the particular question.

Elton also addresses the critical importance of the provenance of sources, and uses documents from the Tudor period as an example. How our sources came to be produced is of critical importance for knowing how to interpret them and understand what evidence, if any, they yield. It is essential to know how they came into being. They must be subjected to this sort of critical enquiry before we can know what sort of evidence they will yield (pp. 62-63).

Of the sources the historian uses, Elton wrote:

There is no perfect substitute for total acquaintance with the relevant material. . . . If the independent reality of history is ever to be apprehended, the real meaning of the surviving material must be elicited from the surface appearance. . . . Criticizing the evidence means two things: establishing its genuineness, and assessing its proper significance. (pp. 66-7)

I submit that there is no reason to think that the Gospels were written with a view to containing real history at some level, or were written from testimonies of oral sources that went back to eyewitnesses of real events. This view of the Gospels as authoritative sources is entirely an untested assumption inherited from centuries of inherited conventional wisdom. They have never been tested as the documents purporting to be the Donation of Constantine or the Ems Telegram have been. Certainly historians have attempted to argue for their origins in this or that geographical area, but precious few have attempted to test the conventional wisdom that claims they are indeed records ultimately derived from “traditions” traceable back to real historical characters and events.

Going this far, I suggest, risks questioning the very rationale for whole discipline of biblical studies.

But none of this, of itself, means that the Gospels might not contain real history. As Philip R. Davies might say, such a question has yet to be established. But Thomas L. Thompson can write (The Messiah Myth) that the idea that the gospel narratives and sayings are derived from real history is falsifiable. He argues that pointing to how the Gospel sayings and actions echo widely known literary sayings and deeds from other periods points to their dependence on their wider literary heritage. My own view is that we can only roll with the evidence we have, and that means comparing the Gospels with the similar literature, or literature that contains similar motifs (e.g. the Jewish scriptures, Book of Enoch and other Second Temple and other Mid East literature, Philo, Euripides, Homer), and seeing where that leads. There are no independent external controls to inform us that the contents of the Gospel narrative are historical. We only have literature to compare with literature. Thompson may not have written the most persuasive book when he composed The Messiah Myth, but he is certainly headed in the right direction with a methodology that pulls on the fewest strings to make it work.

What is required of the Gospels before their narratives can be assumed to be evidence for historical facts is a study of their origins, their audiences, their authors at a minimum. These are all matters of speculation, however educated the speculation may be. Their narratives demand external corroboration before they can be taken as serious evidence of historical events. Every historian from Christian Albert Schweitzer to Marxist Eric Hobsbawm knows that truism. Till then, the best any historian can do is to compare their literature with other literature. If that means seeking to explain the origins and nature of the Gospels themselves, and Christian origins more generally, instead of questing for the Historical Jesus “known” to exist by virtue of conventional wisdom and cultural heritage, then we will be making real intellectual and historical progress.

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