The embarrassing gospel

One of the problems with writing a blog is that you have to keep coming up with something to write about. I think, though, that I’m going to have no shortage of material for the next few days, thanks to our new commenter, Ben, and his arguments from Christian apologetics. Continuing with his second comment, he presents us with the Christian version of the criterion of embarrassment.

The second self-authenticating feature is our justification in applying, to several key details in the Synoptic Gospels, the so-called criterion of embarrassment. This is a principle of historical analysis which states that any detail problematic to an ancient account can be presumed true on the logic that the author would not have invented a detail problematic to his account.

The criterion of embarrassment can indeed be used as a legitimate tool by historians. But, like any tool, it can also be misused, whether by incompetence or malice, much like the same chisel can be used both to carve the sculpture and to destroy it. We thus need to not only identify the use of the tool, but also verify whether it has been applied correctly.

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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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A reminder to believers

Since the Supreme Court is currently hearing arguments regarding gay marriage, I thought it would be a good time to remind believers of a very important moral principle that’s relevant to this particular case. That principle is as follows:

You always have the option of not doing harm to those who have done no harm.

That’s it. That’s all that gay rights advocates are asking for. Just don’t do harm to gays and gay couples, who have done no harm to you or to anyone else. Don’t slander them or discriminate against them or attack them physically or interfere in their personal relationships or do anything to them that you would not want done to yourself. Every major religious or moral system in the world gives you that option. It is allowed, and morally acceptable, to refrain from doing harm to those who have done no harm.

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Pro-life = compensation?

One of the things that always strikes me about the pro-life movement is how incongruously materialistic it is. Here you have people who, for the most part, fervently believe that people have souls and/or spirits, made in the image of God, and that these souls/spirits are “the real us,” the part of us that lives forever and for which the fleshly body is merely a temporary abode (and not infrequently a snare and a source of soul-threatening temptations). In almost any other context, this supposed “immortal soul” would be what makes us people, individuals with value and worth and significance, at least in their eyes.

Let the subject of abortion come up, though, and suddenly these same people have the most materialistic and reductionistic definition of personhood you can imagine.

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How to evolve a resurrection myth

Since a lot of people are celebrating Easter this weekend, I thought it might be a good time to review how easy it is to end up with a resurrection story in the absence of anything supernatural. This account is a bit different from some of the better-known explanations of the Gospel story, but I think it’s more plausible than at least some of them, and might be the most plausible explanation of all.

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A world(view) without morals

Imagine living in a world where you had absolutely no insight into good and evil, a world where you were completely incapable of seeing anything inherently wrong with assault, torture, rape, mutilation, and murder. Imagine being taught a morality so twisted and perverse that the only way you could be persuaded not to do such things is if you imagined some immensely powerful, magical being threatening to hurt you for a very long time if you did them.

Imagine living in Phil Robertson’s world(view)WARNING: Graphic rape/torture/murder fantasy, compliments of Christian hero Robertson, at the other end of that link.

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Gender in Genesis

[Edit: The original post used the term “hermaphrodite” in two places, which I have since learned is considered a slur. My apologies.] Via Pharyngula comes word of a couple articles by Ken Ham on the subject of the sanctity of binary gender. The first complains about schools that are trying to teach kids not to let gender stereotypes limit their thinking and their understanding of one another.

Really, what this handout is encouraging teachers to do is to destroy any distinction between male and female. This is a natural outcome of a culture that has rejected the Bible as its foundation for thinking in every area…

This type of thinking has serious consequences. If man is the ultimate authority, then why not just discard gender?

There’s lots of ways we could determine the right answers to questions about gender. We could turn to ethics, and see which attitudes and behaviors do the most good and least harm, for instance. Or we could look at gender scientifically, and see what biology is actually telling us about sexuality and human development. That should be right up Ham’s alley, since he considers God to be the author of biology. Learning from biology ought to be just another way of studying what God has revealed through his creation (to put it in creationist terms).

But no, Ham isn’t interested in answers based on what’s good or on what’s true. He wants answers based on Authority! If the answer to “Why?” ain’t, “Because I said so!”, it ain’t the answer he’s looking for. The phrase he’s looking for is, “God said it, I believe it, and that settles it.” But can he really say that?

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Exceptionally foolish

Liberals often like to make fun of the conservative doctrine of American “exceptionalism” (and rightly so, for a lot of reasons). There’s a sense, though, in which conservatives are somewhat perversely right: America is exceptional, or at least unusual, among its first world peers. We, perhaps more than any other nation, treasure ignorance and bull-headed foolishness as something to be proud of and as our secret strategy for success. And it’s not just recent history and the rise of Fox News either.

I blame Martin Luther.

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Your memes are trying to tell you something

I saw a couple interesting memes on Facebook recently. One was a guy saying something to the effect of “Complaining that God is silent when you don’t read your Bible is like complaining you don’t get text messages when you turn off your phone.” The other was a story about some kid who got shot in the eye, and survived, to which a believer added a caption giving God credit for his survival. Both memes were similar, in that they were inspirational, superficial, and rich in implications that betray the fundamental fraud of the Gospel.

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