A significant loophole

I got into an interesting discussion with Jayman777 over at Evangelical Realism on the topic of whether the New Testament documents can be considered independent accounts of first century events. After I pointed out that the NT documents are derived from a common source (church tradition), Jayman replied:

[C]laiming that NT authors are not independent of each other runs counter to the scholarly consensus. In the Gospels alone scholars typically point out the Markan tradition, the Q tradition, the independent Matthean tradition, the independent Lukan tradition, and the Johannine tradition. At least Craig is apparently starting from a consensus position.

My response to that was that, scholarly consensus or not, if you have a bunch of people collaborating for years and even decades on preaching a common and consistent story, it’s rather silly to call them independent sources. If that’s not collaborating on a common story, then what is? But after I made that reply, I realized that I was overlooking a rather significant loophole, and that the scholarly consensus could be right after all.

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On the effectiveness of prayer

From time to time various people attempt to study the effect of prayer under real-world conditions, and it occurs to me that we have ideal conditions for undertaking such a study right now. The Cranston West High School has recently concluded a 48-year experiment in which students were exposed to a specific “School Prayer” on a daily basis. Has this prayer worked? Granted, atheists and unbelievers of various sorts might be expected to resist the effects of pious appeals to the Almighty Heavenly Father, so we shouldn’t look at the impact it has had on the godless. Instead, let’s examine the specific petitions in the prayer and see how it has changed believers’ lives, attitudes, and conduct.

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Now there’s a surprise

You’ll never guess how Christians are reacting to the successful lawsuit against the School Prayer mural formerly hanging in Cranston High School West.

The uncle of the 16-year-old Cranston West student and victorious plaintiff at the forefront of the school prayer mural case said his niece is the victim of cyberbullying and police and school officials confirmed they are investigating…

Yesterday, one Twitter user said “this girl honestly needs to be punched in the face.”

Another user bragged “your home address posted online i cant wait to hear about you getting curb stomped you ****ing worthless c***.”

And remember, these are the “meek” that expect to inherit the earth. The good news is that this time there may be some blowback to the blowback.

[S]ome of the comments could constitute cyberbullying and represent violations of the Safe Schools Act — recently passed legislation that establishes a unified state policy against cyberbullying approved by the Rhode Island General Assembly last year and signed into law by Governor Lincoln Chafee last summer.

The legislation, sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Beatrice A. Lanzi (D-Dist. 26, Cranston) defines cyberbullying as “the use by one or more students of a written, verbal or electronic expression” that “causes physical or emotional harm to the student,” “places the student in reasonable fear of harm to himself/herself,” or “creates an intimidating, threatening, hostile or abusive educational environment for the student.”

I say nail ’em. My right to swing my fist ends at the tip of someone else’s nose, and my right to free speech ends at the point where it becomes an explicit or implicit threat to harm someone. We’re a democracy, not a mob. We don’t get to stomp minorities, no matter how much they stand up for their own constitutional rights.

Gospel Disproof #30: Tim Tebow

I wasn’t going to do another Gospel Disproof today, but I saw Ed Brayton’s post on how Worldnetdaily is now hawking “Tebow trash” (or as I prefer to call it, “Teboloney”), and it struck me that Tebow is a great Gospel Disproof.

See, here’s the thing. Tim Tebow is obviously a big fan of Jesus. He talks about Jesus a lot, he has a history of putting Bible verses on his face, and he shows up in church every Sunday. Jesus, meanwhile, is supposed to love Tebow even more than Tebow loves God, yet Jesus hasn’t once shown up to watch his favorite quarterback play, or to root for the Broncos.

Now, I’m an imperfect dad. I love my kids enough to die for them if need be, just like God is supposed to love us. But I even love my kids enough to show up for the important events in their lives. When one of them is performing in a concert or a theatre production, I’m in the audience. I watch and listen and applaud and go up to congratulate them when it’s over. And I’m an imperfect dad. God’s supposed to be perfect, but He doesn’t show up for His kids’ big events. Not even for Tim Tebow.

You can make excuses for God; kids and spouses of absentee dads are good at that sort of thing I guess. But isn’t it more likely that God consistently fails to show up because He does not, in fact, exist outside of the imaginations of believers?

Gospel Disproof #29: Negotiable guilt

One sure sign of the Gospel’s human and imperfect origins is its morality, and specifically its notion of negotiable guilt. By negotiable I don’t mean “we can work out a deal,” I mean negotiable in the financial sense of a deferred payment that exists independently of the bearer and that can be transferred from one bearer to another. Normally, guilt belongs to the person who is guilty. If you murder someone, the fact that you committed the murder is part of your history, and you can’t change that or make someone else the murderer. Christian morality, however, not only allows you to do that, but makes this sort of transfer the whole point of the Gospel.

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An odd little myth

The “historical Jesus” post is still collecting comments, so I suppose there might still be enough interest to justify bringing up the topic again. I’m still not convinced that Jesus never existed, and I’ve thought of an example which seems to suggest to me that some preacher by that name probably did exist. It’s found in Matthew 22:23-33. The most interesting bits are these:

That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question…

Jesus replied, “…But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”

When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at his teaching.

I’d heard this story for years before I realized what an odd little story it really is. Here is Jesus, trying to find some Mosaic reference to resurrection, and the best he can come up with is an argument that God stops being your God when you die? That’s a bizarre thing for a Christian to teach, let alone ascribing such an idea to Jesus himself. As a myth invented decades or centuries later, in an attempt to promote a mythical Messiah in a growing Christian culture, it seems pretty unlikely to me. There’s an alternative, though, that makes a lot more sense.

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Gospel Disproof #28: Conditional salvation

The Christian Gospel has many flaws that betray its origins as a man-made scheme for manipulating people, and one of the more obvious examples is the idea of conditional salvation. People will work harder for something they might achieve than they will for something that’s either guaranteed or impossible, so psychologically it’s a clever tactic to preach a salvation that’s not an automatic given.

Conditional salvation also appeals to a certain selfish vanity that wants to be able to say, “I’ve got it and you don’t, ha ha ha.” People like to feel that they’re part of some elite, exclusive inner circle with awesome special privileges. Granted, in the case of the Gospel, these special privileges don’t really kick in until after you die, but with typically perverse human psychology, that’s actually an advantage—there’s no risk of you finding out those “special privileges” aren’t all they’re hyped up to be.

What’s good as a gimmick for manipulating people, though, is really bad as a divine plan for Eternity, especially on the part of an actual, almighty, loving Father God. Making salvation conditional means making sure that You are going to fail to save at least some percentage of those You’re supposed to love. What would be the point of that? Offering some kind of universal salvation might make people a bit less motivated to try and earn their salvation, but (a) who cares as long as everyone gets saved? and (b) we’re not supposed to be earning our salvation anyway.

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Back in late 2002, when it was beginning to become obvious that George W. Bush was going to send us into an invasion of Iraq, I made some (unpublished) predictions.

  1. The price of gas would spike, as it always does when there’s turmoil in the Middle East.
  2. The US would get bogged down in Iraq for years rather than the few months that Bush was predicting.
  3. The insurgency would not give up, and would even grow stronger with continued US presence in the country.
  4. The US economy would take a severe hit due to (ongoing) high cost of the war.
  5. No weapons of mass destruction would be found apart from what Hussein got from Reagan in the 80’s.
  6. Republicans would lose the White House in 2008 due to the negative consequences of the war.
  7. A Democrat would be elected President and would eventually get us out of Iraq.
  8. Conservatives would blame the Democratic President for taking too long to get out of Iraq
  9. Once the US was gone, conditions in Iraq would become worse than they were under Hussein, and
  10. Conservatives would blame the Democratic President for getting out of Iraq too soon.

I think I came pretty close on the first eight (though number 6 is something of a false positive, since the sub-prime mortgage crisis did more to turn over the White House than the war did).  And I missed a few predictions that I could have made, like the fact that politicians would take advantage of terrorism to start stripping away our civil rights and constitutional liberties. But overall I’d say things are turning out pretty much as I expected, and I’ll be curious to watch for 9 and 10 to come true too.

What do you think?

Trusting in men

This week’s installment of my On Guard coverage is up. We’re talking about whether there was enough time between the first-century events and the first-century manuscripts for Christianity to have started out as a legend, so some of you might be interested.