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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CS Lewis’ argument from literary style

Most believers who comment on my blog are kind of drive-by commenters: one post and then they’re gone. But there are exceptions, and not all of them are outright trolls. Sometimes, they even provoke some interesting discussions, and I think (I hope!) that we’ve got one now.

By way of background, this past Easter season brought a lot of attention to a post I made in February 2012 about Matthew’s story of the guards at the tomb. It has been getting consistent hits in my “Popular Pages” log, and has attracted a few comments, most of which are of the “post and run” variety. Two of them, however, are from a commenter named Ben, and these are the ones I’m referring to.

The second of these is quite long, but he brings up some interesting material, and I’d like to address some of it here, starting with his citation of CS Lewis’ argument from literary style. Ben writes:

Here you, the nonbeliever, loudly object that the Gospel forms the main part of the evidential basis for its own claim. And on the face of it this would appear to be a formidable objection…

[The] problem is one which Christian apologists are able to meet with surprising assurance and lucidity. And they do this by drawing our attention to the unique self-authenticating features of their source material.

I can definitely agree that their assurance is surprising, given the nature of their argument.

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Gospel Disproof #55: The God who could not count to three

One of the differences between a true story and a made-up story is that the made-up story is not consistent with anything that actually happened in the real world. In fact, that’s the essence of what it means to be a made up story. As a consequence of that difference, the made-up story has something else that the true story does not: spontaneous inventions.

For example, let’s consider the curious incident of the Messiah in the tomb.

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Gospel Disproof #54: The wages of sin

There’s an old saying (frequently attributed to Mark Twain) that goes something like this: “Tell the truth. It’s easier.” Or alternately, “Tell the truth, there’s less to remember.” The trouble with untruths is that they never quite line up with reality, which means you have to keep lying in order to cover up the discrepancies. And even then you still have problems. It’s just too darn hard to keep one lie from exposing another.

Take, for example, Romans 6:23: “The wages of sin is death.” According to the Bible, we’re all sinners, and that means we all deserve to die. But (the Gospel tells us) we can escape God’s judgment because Jesus paid the price for us, by dying in our place. His death pays the penalty for our sins, so now we can go to Heaven essentially for free. In fact, that’s the whole reason Jesus died in the first place: because he wanted us to go to Heaven, and that couldn’t happen unless there was a death to pay for our sins.

There’s just one little problem with this simple, appealing story. We still die. Believers die, unbelievers die, agnostics die, everybody dies. And that means everybody pays the price of sin anyway, even without Jesus’s help. So what do we need Jesus for?

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Gospel Disproof #52: Christians and cannibals

One of the early accusations against Christians was that they were cannibals who practiced ritual human sacrifice and then devoured their victims in secret rites hidden away among the catacombs. If you’re familiar with the Christian sacrament of communion and its meaning, it’s easy to see how such a rumor could get started. The cup that Christians drink is a sharing in the blood of Jesus, and those who eat the bread are eating his body as well, at least according to the liturgy. The language and terminology they use is certainly the vocabulary of cannibals and vampires, and Christians attach great importance and reverence to that vocabulary. Small wonder, then, that some people took them for wanna-be cannibals and vampires.

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Gospel Disproof #51: No good arguments for God

I’m going to piggyback off an excellent post by The Uncredible Hallq on the topic of whether there are any good arguments for God. You often hear Christian apologists protest that, when you disprove Apologetic Argument X, you still have not disproved the existence of God, because you haven’t addressed Apologetic Argument Y (and when you address Y, then they’ll claim you need to address Z, etc. etc.). All the apologist has to do is keep drawing one more line in the sand, indefinitely, in order to claim that the skeptic has failed to cross the right one.

Despite this ingenious exercise in goalpost-moving, though, the nature of the arguments themselves is enough to establish the fact that there are no good (i.e. valid and reliable) arguments for the existence of a deity like the Christian God.

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Gospel Disproof #50: Verbal answers to prayer

Here’s an interesting experiment you can try, at least if you’re living in America and I assume most other countries as well. Get a dollar bill (or equivalent local currency) but don’t look at it. Printed on that bill is a serial number. Ask God to tell you what that number is, and write down what He tells you. Then compare it to the number that is actually on the bill. Did God get it right?

Verbal answers to prayer are one example of a whole class of things you can ask God for that He will never be able to give you. Believers, naturally, have built up a vast network of excuses and rationalizations for why this should be so. For example, they will tell you that God takes offense when you ask for things like that—that you’re asking with wrong motives, that you’re testing Him, that you’re even rebelling against Him. And yet, these excuses run exactly counter to what believers think prayer is supposed to be.

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Gospel Disproof #49: Maimed in heaven

In Mark 9:43-48, Jesus is reported to have said:

If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life crippled, than, having your two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire, [where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.] If your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame, than, having your two feet, to be cast into hell, [where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.] If your eye causes you to stumble, throw it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be cast into hell, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.

The idea of eternal punishment offends a lot of people today, even among believers. And not just today, either—a number of the ancient Church Fathers tried to soften this doctrine by turning it into a kind of pre-Catholic purgatory, where sinners go to get the sin burned out of them so that they then can enter into the eternal blessings of heaven. But Jesus wasn’t one to try and accommodate what you might call the harsh teachings of Christianity with the nice-guy sensibilities of the meek and moral. All of his reported teachings on hell, like the passage above, assume that once you’re thrown into hell, you stay there.

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Gospel Disproof #48: A Christmas story

I’m currently re-reading the Terry Pratchett Discworld series, and have made it as far as Hogfather, Pratchett’s decidedly warped perspective on old Father Christmas (or as we Americans would call him, Santa). For some reason this reminded me of a famous quote: “If you understand why you do not believe in everyone else’s gods, then you’ll understand why I do not believe in yours.” It’s pithy, but imperfect, because so many believers have really warped reasons for rejecting other gods. (Justin Martyr, for instance, once explained to Caesar that Jupiter and the other Roman deities were really demons pretending to be gods, in order to lead people to hell.)

With that in mind, I’d like to propose an updated version of the original quote: once you understand why you do not believe in Santa, you’ll understand why I do not believe in Jesus. I know, it’s flawed too (don’t try it on Jews or Muslims, for example). But I think it might be a bit more effective with Christians than the original.

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