Our friend AJ has tried a few times to respond to my post, though without much success, and has now begun resorting to just posting links to blog posts (authored by himself) that repeat the things he wants to hear. Since they’re largely tangential if not completely irrelevant, I’ve had to warn him that the comments aren’t for spam, link farms or other types of free publicity for Christian propaganda. But the first link he posted was rather inadvertently poignant, and I thought it might be worth a look just to see how much despair there is in conservative Christian denialism these days.
The despair starts from the very first sentence.
Spiritually, our nation is dying. In response, conservative Christians are caught between righteous judgements and somber humility.
We’re dying! Oh my god, this is the end for us! Conservative Christians are genuinely afraid, which is rather odd considering that they also believe God is in control and that everything is going according to some mysterious but invincibly wise and loving plan. This is what’s so poignant. According to their faith, they are required to believe that everything is happening just the way God wants it to happen, and yet when they lift their eyes from the Bible and look at the real world, it looks like God is totally screwing up His end of the deal. And they’re not allowed to even think of complaining about it. God has to be perfect, so you can’t acknowledge, even to your self, that He’s failing to perform as expected.
And so conservative Christians are, as AJ puts it, “caught between righteous judgements and somber humility.” Or at least, they’re caught. I don’t know about “righteous” judgements, and “humility” seems a bit of a stretch, considering. But they’re definitely stuck here. Reality is badly out of sync with what you’d expect if their beliefs were true. What are they going to do about it?
A good answer would be, “Nothing.” The problem they’re concerned about is godlessness. Just as hairlessness means the absence of hair and hopelessness means the absence of hope, godlessness means the absence of God. And the solution to God’s absence would be for God to start showing up in real life. No human-initiated efforts are needed or helpful. Only God can solve the problem of godlessness, and the only way He can solve it is to stop being absent and start showing up in real life.
But there’s a catch. God is a fictional character who exists only in the minds of His believers. He’s a virtual puppet. He can’t speak unless his believer-operators pull the strings to move His lips and do the voices that are supposed to be His divine revelation. He cannot show up in real life, and therefore it’s up to His believers to create the appearance of God in God’s absence. It’s up to men to do God’s work on God’s behalf so that they can then give God the credit for having done it. And it is precisely this “godly” work that AJ exhorts his fellow believers to do, in God’s absence.
Our humanity enables us to relate to our fellow man on a natural level, but the good-will offer enables us to share God’s mercy and grace – enabling us to relate on a spiritual level. If we are rejected, we should not grow bitter or indignant. There is no shame in representing our faith to the best of our God-given ability. (We need not be a theologian or hold a doctorate in divinity, but we should do our homework).
Share and Defend is what I propose. Share the Gospel and Defend Christian Values. Charitably share the message of salvation, and defend the veracity of the message.
So basically, believers are supposed to have divine help as they do “God’s work,” but they also need to be prepared to fail. That way, whether they succeed or fail, they can claim that God was somehow present—those who reject you aren’t rejecting you, they’re rejecting God. So when you fail to convince people that God is real, that means God is real, right?
I do kind of like AJ’s all or nothing approach. There’s a kind of perverse integrity in sticking to your convictions no matter what.
If we fail to present the one part, the other is often rejected. If we fail to present the Gospel as truth, we will suffer rejection. If we fail to present the Gospel as saving, we will suffer rejection.
Share and defend with charity and faithfulness. The power is not in us, but a half-hearted messenger will be exposed as a poor witness of the faith.
The Gospel is self-revealing, although we like to make the message more palatable by sugarcoating the more offensive parts. A faithful witness must Share a complete Gospel.
AJ is trying to rationalize Christianity’s failure by blaming believers (not God!) for “sugar-coating” the ugly parts of the Gospel. When you’re preaching things that sound intolerant and hateful, don’t compromise, emphasize! It’s all well and good to promise people they can live forever and be eternally happy, but you mustn’t forget to tell them that they have to oppress and persecute the gays, and that it’s ok for God to send most of His own beloved children to be tortured eternally in Hell. Either you believe it all, or you don’t believe it. The lifeboats are just for decoration; the Titanic cannot sink! If you’re going to say you believe something, you need to act like you believe it, even if it ends in disaster.
Like I said, poignant. They’re trying to create their own God in His absence, and in the process they’re sowing the seeds of their own calamity by refusing to acknowledge how far their beliefs have strayed from the real world. And the results are driving them to despair.
AJ’s plan for sharing and defending the gospel (or at least Part One of that plan) focuses on two main points: attacking science and revising history.
Here’s just a few considerations that should be considered in an effort to preserve and advance a Judeo-Christian worldview.
1. The inadequacy of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution as a replacement for Biblical Creation…
2. The historical reliability of the Bible account…
To support each of those two points, he relies on the Argument From Gullibility: “they say” that evolution is inadequate, and “they say” that the Bible is reliable, and therefore we have incontrovertible proof for each of those two conclusions. Whatever he has heard that supports his desired conclusions, he accepts naively and uncritically (and sometimes includes in posts complaining about “The ignorance of blind faith”—meaning anyone who disagrees with him!). We’ve already looked at his creationist arguments, so let’s check out some of his arguments for the historical reliability of the Bible account.
A. The discovery of the original manuscript (Dead Sea Scrolls) detailing the unaltered accounts of the Old Testament.
Contrast this with the summary of the Dead Sea Scrolls from The Oxford Companion to Archeology.
In their astonishing range of textual variants, the Qumran biblical discoveries have prompted scholars to reconsider the once-accepted theories of the development of the modern biblical text from only three manuscript families: of the Masoretic text, of the Hebrew original of the Septuagint, and of the Samaritan Pentateuch. It is now becoming increasingly clear that the Old Testament scripture was extremely fluid until its canonization around A.D. 100.
Scholars who have studied the actual Dead Sea Scrolls conclude that the Old Testament scripture was “extremely fluid,” but in conservative Christian folklore the scrolls prove that the Old Testament is “unaltered.”
B. Numerous archeological finds that support the validity of events recorded in the Bible, and just as important, the fact that none of these finds have contradicted the explanations and descriptions referenced in Biblical accounts (people, places, events, etc.). The notable and highly respected Jewish archeologist, [Rabbi] Nelson Glueck, declared that “no archeological discovery has ever controverted a single biblical reference. Scores of archeological findings have been made which confirm in clear outline or in exact detail historical statements in the Bible.
Unfortunately, this citation provides no specifics, so we have no way to verify which “historical statements” are supposed to have been verified. Egyptian history, for example, is significantly devoid of any incidents where the economy of the ancient kingdom collapsed due to the overnight loss of its entire slave population, not to mention the absence of any pharoahs who led the entire Egyptian army to their deaths by drowning in the Red Sea. Sumerian archeology is likewise mysteriously unaware that their entire culture is supposed to have drowned in Noah’s flood, shortly after the building of the pyramids and the Sphinx in Egypt.
One wonders, too, why Rabbi Glueck’s boldest claim is merely that archeology fails to disprove the Bible. That seems like a fairly weak claim to make, as well as an inconclusive one. We might say, with equal validity, that archeology fails to disprove the charge that Jesus was a pedophile, but what would that tell us about Jesus’ sexual habits? There’s not much significance to the fact that archeology “fails to disprove” the story that Cain slew Abel, or that Prometheus stole fire from Olympus, or that Romulus and Remus were raised by wolves. That’s why archeologists don’t make such weak claims when talking about events that are well-supported by the evidence. You don’t hear anyone saying, “Well, archeology does not disprove the story that the pharoahs did build pyramids.” Things that really happened usually leave much better evidence.
What’s more, the historical details that archeology does confirm are precisely those details that do not require any supernatural intervention to account for them. Yes, there was an ancient city in Jerusalem, and yes, there were tribal and national wars in ancient times. The fact that the Bible mentions such mundane details has as much to do with “proving the Bible” as the existence of 221B Baker Street has to do with proving that Sherlock Holmes was a real person. It’s really a bad sign that Rabbi Glueck could find no stronger claim for the Bible than that “archeology hasn’t disproved it”—especially considering the inevitable implicit “yet.”
AJ fares no better with New Testament archeology.
C. Surviving outside (or secondary) sources that corroborate certain actualities of Biblical Christianity (as noted in the written works of the following authors: Josephus AD 93, Pliny the Younger AD 112, Tacitus AD 116, Suetonius AD 120, Lucian AD 170, The Talmud 70-200 AD). To merely write off these individuals and events as part of mythical folklore is an exercise in willful, biased subjectivity.
Nobody “writes off” the mundane, non-supernatural details documented in the above citations. It’s just that they’re irrelevant. Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Witchcraft is located in
England Scotland, according to the Harry Potter stories, and nobody “writes off” England Scotland just because an author mentioned it in a fictional series of books. But the fact that real places exist means only that real places exist. It does not mean that we have to believe every fanciful and incredible story that is said to take place in these locations. Nauvoo was a real place in the 1800′s too, but that doesn’t prove that Joseph Smith was a real prophet.
D. The fact that the New Testament accounts from the different primary sources (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter, Jude, James) verify each other on all the central points of the Christian faith (these writings were pooled together as part of the canon of scriptures – collectively making up the New Testament).
This depends on a highly subjective interpretation of what it means for the “primary sources” to “verify each other,” not to mention a certain arbitrary definition of what “all the central points” are in the Christian faith. It’s worth noting, too, that there were a lot of early sources, and that the early Church had a habit of burning every and any documents that conflicted with their understanding of the “central points” of the Christian faith. That this body would eventually (centuries later) produce a canon that largely fit their definition of sound doctrine, is hardly a remarkable development. Indeed, it would be rather surprising to find any one religion whose holy books did not exhibit a similar conformity of doctrines.
Then too, the early Christian manuscripts are not all that harmonious, and certainly are not uniform enough to support the claim that they were divinely inspired to the point of being rendered infallible. Parts of the story are clearly fabrications, such as when the guards allegedly tell the Pharisees that Jesus is alive and roaming around Jerusalem, and the Pharisees’ only worry is whether they can get away with lying about why the tomb is now empty. (If I’d just murdered somebody, and he came back from the dead, the condition of grave would be the last thing I’d worry about!)
Or look at I Corinthians 15, where Paul argues extensively that the body that rises from the dead is not the physical body that gets buried. Later Christians were just as emphatic that resurrection did raise the exact physical body of Jesus, to the point that he could show them the still-unhealed wounds in his hands and feet and side. Modern believers munge the two ideas together by claiming that Jesus’ resurrected body was both spiritual and physical, but this is clearly not how the original story went, since the modern story would never produce the theological difficulties Paul was trying to address in I Cor. 15.
But that’s the story AJ has to work with. Like his antecedents, it’s his job to do God’s work in God’s absence so that he can then pretend it was God that did the work, in order to persuade people to believe. Belief is all they’ve got, and so they prove it by sharing stories that they accept uncritically just because they believe the conclusions.
And belief does not work when the object of one’s belief is not real. That’s the crux of the believer’s despair. All they have to confront the world with is their belief, and reality does not believe the same things they do. Then, when reality fails to behave the way faith says it should, all the believer can do is believe harder in the same beliefs that caused the crisis in the first place.
My advice, to AJ and others, is to quit trying to be God in God’s absence. To blame godlessness on men is to admit that men are responsible for creating God. Otherwise, it would not be their fault when God failed to exist. If you really want a good reason to believe in God, you’re going to need a God who shows up in real life without human effort. Thus far, He does not show up, and Christians have been unable to resist the temptation to do His work for Him, so that they can commit the spiritual idolatry of worshipping the things they do on His behalf, as though it were Him doing them. And that’s why Christianity is in such bad shape today.