Is free college the answer?

According to Salon.com, plank number one in Bernie Sanders’ presidential platform is a plan to provide free college tuition at four-year public colleges and universities, funded by a tax on Wall Street stock transactions. I think overall that this would be a great thing, a great investment in America’s future, and an entirely appropriate use of government funds. That said, however, I have some reservations about whether this would really do as much good as we might hope.

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Just this

It’s funny, but one of the best sources for evidence against Christianity is often believers themselves. And I’m not talking about ordinary garden-variety hypocrisy either. I mean arguments and tactics that make it entirely plausible to conclude that Christians are making the whole thing up, even intentionally so, yet somehow without admitting to themselves that this is what they are doing. If you can bear with me for one last paragraph from Ben’s comments, I think I have a sterling example.

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The Irish Ayes are smiling

And not just the Irish. Early reports show Irish voters overwhelmingly supporting equal rights for gays. This is a great victory for human rights and civilization, and a slap in the face to the dishonest “What about the children?” hysteria the anti-equality side was trying to foment.

Interestingly, a successful “Yes” vote on this referendum will mean that the union of one man and one woman will still be considered a legal marriage, no matter what the anti-gay folks might have claimed. Just thought it might be good to point that out.

Gospel Disproof #56: Rebuilding the temple

I got another comment from a believer asking me about the gospels, and I answered it in place. On re-reading my answer, however, I realized that this would be a good addition to my series on Gospel Disproofs, so I’m re-posting it here.

[Update: Aly responded in the comments and writes, “I’m neither a ‘believer’ ~which provokes+implies so much contempt on this blog (I don’t think that’s fair, considering they’ve been lied to their entire lives); nor a ‘grumpyoldfart’. I’m just a teenager questioning my ‘faith’” — Apologies to Aly for jumping to a false conclusion.]

The original commenter, Aly, writes:

I’m curious about the complete lack of your explanation of Jesus’ proclamation that he would ‘rebuild the temple in three days’ after it was pulled down. If you say that this statement was not related to the resurrection, then why do you suppose he said so? I’m disinclined to think that he might have been boastful and arrogant about his abilities, because this isn’t evident in other writings on him. I’m under every impression that he was a humble man. However, if you are able to prove otherwise, then I am willing to accept that.

If you would say that someone might have planted that statement in, I do not think that possible. Mostly because many people have reported him saying that [something that appears in the books by Matthew, Mark, and John and the book of Acts; whereas like you say, the resurrection story et all is only in the one by Matthew which makes it questionable], and the different varieties of ‘tear (it) down and (it) will be rebuilt in three days’. Also because of the fact that the Jews were present during this declaration by Jesus and countered saying (paraphrase) ‘it took forty years to build it, what are you saying man’.

So, in effect my question is this: Why do you think Jesus said ‘I will rebuild my temple in three days’? What did he mean by this?

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Calling it what it is

It bugs me when I hear the right-wing propaganda engine refer to the wealthy as “job creators,” as though our economic well-being depended on appeasing them and encouraging them and generally admiring them. I think that whenever you pay your employees less-than-poverty-level wages, you deserve to be known for what you are: a poverty creator. You’re creating poverty, and thus, you’re creating a burden on society. It is you, and not the people you are impoverishing, who are the true parasite. Noble titles, like “job creator,” should be reserved for those who actually benefit society, and don’t just enrich themselves at society’s expense.

The coming Gaypocalypse

Ed Brayton has been documenting the rising hysteria and apocalyptic paranoia of the Christian right in connection with the Supreme Courts upcoming ruling on gay marriage. If the Court legalizes same-sex marriage, they warn, we can expect wars! and diseases! and the end of families! and of law! and of civilization! and so on and so on, with lots of extra exclamation points.

I have some sympathy for believers. I think legalizing gay marriage will be just as devastating for Christianity as these groups are predicting. Not because any of their predictions will come true, but because they won’t.

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A macabre digression

I think a good blog post should have a single main topic, and should stick to it, but today I’m going to break that rule rather badly. This post is going to be mostly about Ben’s most-recently-published comment, but at a certain point I am going to digress by bringing up a rather grim and horrific possibility that accounts for the empty tomb in a way I haven’t heard before. I may end up derailing my own conversation with Ben, but I can’t help it. This one is just too fascinating to pass up.

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Understanding ancient events

Ben closes his presentation with one last, short argument, and a summary.

A fifth feature, similar to the criterion of embarrassment, is the use of hostile witnesses. The earliest Jewish arguments against Christianity, for example, accuse the disciples of having stolen the body. This is important because it involves an incidental admission of a fact that was operating against the Sanhedrin attempts to suppress the spread of Christian belief: That the tomb was empty. Paul Maier argues that, “if a source admits a fact that is decidedly not in its favour, the fact is to be presumed genuine.”

As with some of his other arguments, this one cuts both ways: an empty tomb is one that does not contain a resurrected Jesus either. If the early Christians had had an actual, risen Savior, the presence of Jesus would have consumed their attention to the point that nobody would care about his absence from the tomb. The early Christian emphasis on the tomb very strongly suggests that it was the only part of the post-crucifixion narrative that had any basis in fact. In this context, it is Matthew, and not the Sanhedrin, who is a hostile witness against himself when he testifies that disciples were commonly known or believed to have moved the body, even before Christians were influential enough to want to suppress.

There’s lots more that could be said on that point, but a lot of it I’ve said before, here and elsewhere. Let’s leave that for now and move on to his summary, which does raise some interesting discussion.

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Believing anyway

Christian apologists have come up with some real doozies over the centuries, and the argument Ben chooses as his fourth evidence for the gospel is, I have to say, one of the more implausible ones.

A fourth related feature of the Gospels is their proximity in time and space to the events they describe. Given the number of Jewish and Roman authorities hostile to Christianity, it is unlikely that the early disciples would have exposed themselves and their fledgling movement to discredit by making false statements that it would be easy for their opponents to refute.

That’s right: whoever invented this argument long ago, they seriously expect us to buy the claim that believers would never say anything the unbelieving authorities might contradict, because untrue religious beliefs are easy to refute. Just ask any Mormon about Joseph Smith’s police record.

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An Inconsistent “Truth”

Ben’s third argument is another familiar one, though it seems odd to see it presented as though it were a positive evidence in favor of the Christian gospel.

A third feature of the Gospels vouching for their authenticity as eyewitness testimony is the one we have already discussed: The superficial inconsistency of detail. I think this suffices to justify a dismissal of factual infallibility. To my way of thinking, testimonial cogency is superior to factual identicality insofar as the former compels belief and the latter invites us to suspect a conspiracy. I therefore see no reason why we should equate divine involvement with infallibility. And I certainly cannot see the logic in your objection that noting the discrepancies between the different narratives is tantamount to demonstrating their overall falsity. It only disproves the falsity of inerrancy. It doesn’t disprove the hypothesis that 2015 years ago an incandescently mysterious event occurred which has been filtered through to us in the form of a collection of scattershot Greek texts which, over, as a result of their transaction with the divine, may yet be regarded as Holy.

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