The Proselytising Thread

The question has come up of how to react to proselytisation attempts on my blog. Yannoupoika, one of the contributors to the recent discussions on here about abortion, has been making a number of statements and claims about the religious belief that he follows (Christianity, if you were wondering). Another commenter objected to the discussion of this subject in a non-religious discussion on an atheist blog.

My thoughts on this are:

  1. I’m happy with people trying to convert me. This is not because I have the least desire to be converted, but because I enjoy the ensuing discussions.
  2. Most people, from what I can see, do not feel this way. Therefore, if a thread about something else starts filling up with debate over apologetics/religion, probably most or all of the other people who wanted to read the thread won’t want to read the religious debate. I know you can’t please all of the people all of the time, but it seems a shame to spoil a thread for a high percentage of the people who want to read it.

And thus, to reconcile 1 and 2, I’m creating this post; a comment thread specifically for such discussions. You can join in with an existing discussion, or bring a discussion here if it’s broken out in another thread as happened this time, or jump right on in and start one. Or, if you prefer, ignore it completely and read other bits of my blog instead.

So… if you want to have a shot at convincing me that your god is real/that I should convert to your religion, or if you want to respond to someone who’s raised the subject in another thread, go right ahead! Just take a few minutes to read over the rules and guidelines, which are thus:


  1. Show respect for the religious beliefs of others, including agnosticism/atheism. No rudeness, no dissing, no sneering, no insults or name-calling. You might have excellent reasons for having a low opinion of someone else’s belief system and, if so, I hope you find a good place to vent about them, but this ain’t it. Be polite or take it elsewhere.
  2. No assumptions about why anyone believes/disbelieves what they do. If you’re wondering whether someone’s belief is due to an ulterior motive, ask them, don’t tell them.
  3. Be careful about accusations of lying. A lie is a deliberately false statement made with the intent to deceive. An unintentional inaccuracy is not a lie. A difference in opinion is not a lie. This happens to be something I feel quite strongly about, so… if you don’t have reasonably good evidence that someone meant a false statement to be deliberately deceptive, don’t throw out accusations of lying. By all means call them out on the inaccuracy, but do it without throwing out unfounded accusations.
  4. I reserve the right to delete comments in whole or in part if they break these rules. If I do so, I will indicate in the thread that I’ve done so. I would prefer not to do so and will try where possible to keep to warnings instead, but don’t abuse that slack.


These, as you can deduce from the fact that they’re in a separate section, are not rules; you won’t be deleted or barred for not following them. They’re my thoughts on how any discussions can be more interesting/productive/coherent.

  1. There really isn’t much point just making statements about your beliefs and expecting that to have an effect. For example, if your argument consists solely of statements such as “We’re all sinners but Jesus died to save you!”, then there is not going to be much I can say other than “I get that you believe that. I don’t. Have a nice day.” Which is going to be rather dull as discussions go, so you’ll be better off thinking of some actual arguments, questions, or both.
  2. Massive long infodumps about your faith will, in practice, be a bit hard for me to answer, so, for example, C&Ping chapters from your apologetics book or asking for my opinion on an entire website are probably not going to get very far as discussion goes; I’m not going to have time to write lengthy essays. (Admittedly this will not necessarily stop me, given my long history of getting sucked into answering things I really didn’t have time to answer. However, you’ll have a better chance of having your comments answered if they stick to a reasonably short number of points.)
  3. I’m not that interested in abstruse philosophical arguments. That’s just my personal preference. If you still want to make them… whatever, go ahead, I’ll try to answer if I can.
  4. If you try to convert me to your religion, the resulting discussion is likely to end up including reasons why I disagree with you. If you don’t want to hear those, think twice about whether you want to start the discussion.
  5. If you post here as a way of bringing a debate from another thread here, it’ll help if you say that that’s what you’re doing, put a link back to the original debate in your comment, and then put a link to your comment in the original thread. That way, anyone reading the discussion here knows the context of what you’re replying to, and whomever you replied to in the original thread will know where you’ve taken it.

I think that’s it, although I’ll amend the rules or guidelines if anything comes up that I haven’t thought of. Play nicely, everyone… and have fun!


  1. Dr Sarah says

    I’ll kick this off by continuing the original discussion that sparked this. For anyone who wants to read the original context of the statements I’m quoting, the discussion was in, and the comments to which I’m replying here are #21 and #35, by yannoupoika.

    With regards to your comment about ‘Don’t judge a worldview by its followers or it’s abuse, judge it by its founder, Jesus

    Huh? That was your comment, not mine (in comment #7 on that thread). I did quote it in order to reply to it, which is why it’s in quote marks in that comment, but it didn’t come from me.

    The story of the Canaanite woman was that she wanted healing for her daughter. Jesus didn’t call her a dog

    Jesus replied to her plea for help with her daughter by stating “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs” in a context that made it clear that ‘dogs’ referred to Gentiles and hence to this woman and her daughter.

    I understand that you believe that this behaviour was somehow excusable. I do not agree with you and do not think anyone would find it acceptable if this was the response that they or a loved one received in a moment of desperation.

    Marriage is the institution that God designed as a way to explain and demonstrate the relationship between Himself and mankind. The definition of what adultery amounts to and what the effects and consequences are for adultery (stoning for man or woman), are placed in the Torah (Old Testament Law) to protect the God ordained institution of marriage.

    Yannoupoika, take a good look at those laws. A married woman would be violently, painfully executed for sex with another man, as would a man who slept with another man’s wife. But a married man who slept with another woman would suffer no legal consequences for his adultery; no law in the OT forbids a married man from having sex outside his marriage. A married or engaged woman who was raped could also be executed for adultery if it was deemed that she should have screamed for help and hadn’t done so; if her judges didn’t account for the possibility that she might have frozen in terror and been unable to scream, then too bad for her. An unbetrothed girl who was raped was expected to marry her rapist and stay with him lifelong. I know those rules were amended in future centuries, adapted to be more humane and understanding… but those are the rules that were originally set down, within a society that had little regard for the rights of women and little reason to interpret those laws humanely.

    Those aren’t laws centred around the concept of marriage as a relationship. Those are laws centred around the concept of a female reproductive tract as a man’s possession.

    But these same effects and consequences (caused by adultery) upon a human marriage between a man and a woman also paint a picture of what happens when we commit adultery against God.

    …we’re humiliated and painfully executed with no recourse and little attention given to whether we had any choice in the matter or not?

    Over and over again we are told in the Bible that we break faith with God when we worship other gods, when we choose the way of the world over the way of the Lord, when we decide to dedicate ourselves to religious doctrines and nice sounding traditions instead of to the actual Word of God as laid down in Scripture, and when we violate His laws and commands.

    Funny you should say that, because that’s pretty much exactly why practising Jews reject Christianity. Their scriptures tell them over and over again not to worship other gods… and there’s no exception there for claims that a man was really God turning up in a human body. They’re told not to choose the way of the world over the way that the Lord has given them… in other words, don’t abandon the laws laid down in their scriptures for them to follow for all time. They’re told not to violate God’s laws and commands… and abandoning that system of law, as Christianity tells Jews to do, would indeed violate it. That’s why it’s against the Jewish religion for Jews to become Christian. Yet Christianity still teaches they should do exactly this.

    Now in the Numbers 5 account, it shows what should happen if the parties go to the priest (not the civil authorities). The priest makes this solution of holy water (from the laver), dust from the temple floor and ink that was used to write JHVH, then washed off into the liquid. Do you really think this could cause a miscarriage?

    No, of course not. But Numbers 5:27 clearly states that, if the woman’s guilty of adultery, it will. So, either there really is a God who arranged for pregnant adulterers who underwent this ordeal to miscarry, or else what it says in this verse is incorrect. Which of those two do you believe to be the case?

    A better example of how this changed is in the Book of John chapter 8:1-11. (Please check this out Dr. Sarah regarding Jesus actions and true attitude toward women and issues of sin.[…]).

    That passage is recognised by scholars as almost certainly being a later addition, so we can’t really take it as an account of Jesus’s actions, as it probably wasn’t. Even apart from that, it’s not really a good example of anything changing for the better. In that story, the reason given for not stoning the woman isn’t that the punishment is too harsh, or that it’s sexist to apply this only to women who break their marriage vows but not men. The reason given is that the people gathered to stone her aren’t perfect. If that’s good enough reason to abandon the law, then we end up entirely abandoning the legal system rather than reforming it, and anarchy isn’t that much of an improvement on rigidity.

    There is much more detail that one could give about this but we are told in the Word that God is faithful. He NEVER breaks faith with us. He never changes

    In that case, the Jewish law should still be in effect for Jews, as stated and driven home multiple times in the Torah; which would mean that Paul and the author of Acts were wrong when they believed God was happy for Jews to abandon it. I’m guessing that’s not what you believe, however.

  2. ShifterCat says

    Yannoupoika keeps saying that sexual morality has changed. I think he’s right. Thing is, I firmly believe that it’s changed for the better: we’re shifting from a paradigm based on property to one based on consent.

    Throughout most of history in most societies, “sexual morality” was based on patriarchal notions of property: not just the idea of women as men’s property, but also of patrilineal inheritance. Men feared passing down land and titles to children who weren’t their own, so they doled out harsh punishments not only for women who had consensual sex outside of marriage, but for women and girls who were raped. Meanwhile men were allowed to take however many mistresses they liked, and also to have sexual access to servants, slaves, and other lower-status women.

    The Biblical laws Dr. Sarah discusses above show this: rape is viewed not as an assault on a person, but as theft of one man’s property by another. This view is also shown by just how recently it was (1970s in the U.S.) that a wife could accuse her husband of rape. Under the “women as property” view, marital rape isn’t a concept; she belongs to him, so he can do what he likes when he likes!

    (I seem to recall Yannoupoika making some claim about higher rates of sexual assault. He would do well to keep in mind a vital point: if a crime isn’t REPORTED, it won’t show up in statistics. If rape victims are too frightened or ashamed to go to the authorities, or they think that they will not be believed, or their society has convinced them that what happened wasn’t actually rape, then they won’t report. That doesn’t mean that sexual assaults are not occurring.)

    If your sexual morality is based on consent, though, then it doesn’t matter whether the victim was a virgin, or whether they were married to the perpetrator, or whether they were employed by the perpetrator, or even whether they were female (yes, feminist groups fought for the recognition of male rape victims): what matters is that their body is their own, and nobody has the right to force sex upon them under any circumstance. Period.

    Another reason why principles of consent and harm reduction are superior is that they can apply to and be used by anyone regardless of social status, gender, and religious belief (or LACK of religious belief). Notions of “chastity” are poisoned with misogynist double standards and don’t even make sense outside of patriarchal religions. When your starting principle is, instead, “Sexual consent must be fully informed, freely given, and ongoing”, then you’re much less likely to cause harm to other people.

  3. Dr Sarah says

    @Katydid, while those were great points about proselytising and I agree with what you’re saying, you’ve just made them in a thread that was set up specifically for proselytising. That’s kind of the equivalent of walking into the designated smoke room to tell people there about the harms of public smoking. On here, I think it’s pushing it a bit too much with regard to Rule 1, so I’ve saved your comment in moderation (as you’re welcome to post it on a different thread if you want to and I didn’t know whether you’d have it saved; let me know if you want it back). Thanks, and I hope you still post on other threads!

  4. Owlmirror says

    Over and over again we are told in the Bible that we break faith with God when we worship other gods

    This is something I sometimes wonder about: How was worship of “other gods” actually supposed to have happened, if there were really only one God who killed off everyone except for 8 people? Was it really the case that every single family had nothing but kids (or grandkids, or however far down the line) who were so perversely dumb that they made up bunches of different fake gods to pray to? Shouldn’t there have been at least one lineage that was better off because they maintained the worship of the right, true God, while all the others were worse off (perhaps even struck with God’s wrath) because they were worshipping fakes?

    Come to think of it, isn’t worshipping a fake god more deserving of pity than wrath, like having an imaginary lover?

    It’s also odd in that after the destruction of the first temple, Jews maintained faith in God, and were mostly not tempted by religions around them. Why were Jews able to keep faith outside of Israel, but before they were conquered and exiled, the fake gods of the surrounding peoples were some sort of irresistible attraction? I recall reading somewhere that this incongruity bothered some of the ancient rabbis as well, and they came up with the idea that there was an actual “strong spirit of idolatry” that had been trapped in a magic pot or something by the rabbis before themselves.

    Of course, the appeal of different fake gods makes much more sense in the context of the God of the bible also being fake.

    The more you think about the biblical narratives, the less sense they make as consistent narratives — because of course, the narratives are also fake.

  5. Katydid says

    Sorry, Dr. Sarah, I have no idea what I wrote this morning (it was early, I was waiting for an elderly parent I’m caretaking who insisted on showering before breakfast).

    I think my point was that proselytizing is useless; even if they “win” people for a short time, it never lasts. And mostly they don’t win anyone because pretty much everyone’s either been raised in Christianity or heavily exposed to it because the culture is saturated with it.

  6. StevoR says

    (Christianity, if you were wondering).

    That, actually doesn’t narrow it down very much! 😉

    Christianity includes so many and such diverse sets of belief from the progressive and compassionate such as Fred Clark of the Slacktivist blog’s ( & see esp his deconstruction of the truly absymal Left Behind’ books) though to the Westboro Baptist cult. You have a range of thousands from the various Greek, Serbian, Russian, Armenian etc .. Orthodox through Catholic which has its own diverse set of historical schools such as the “liberation theology” of Gustavo Gutiérrez versus the conservative Ratzinger / Bendict XCI faction and various monastic orders like Franciscans, Dominicans, Trappists etc .. through the Protestants with their own multuitudinous splinters from Lutherans and Calvinists to Anglicans to Church of Christ in Congo ( then all the way out to the Mormons, Scientologists and even technically the Moonies, David Koresh ( and others extreme sects too even if they are out on the farthest fringes.*
    Now admittedly a lot of Christians wouldn’t accept these as being Christian but then those groups likewise wouldn’t accept the others as truly “Christian” and claim they are the truly Christian ones too raising questions over who is really Christian and who gets to decide that?

    My question for any of the proselytisers who do turn up here : If your version of the One True Church (or religion*) is the One True One then why are there so many other varieties of your faith and why couldn’t God be clearer as to which variety of which religion is actually right?

    * Ditto with the other religions too from the Liberal even secular forms of Judaism through to its Ultra-Orthodox Hasidic varieties and Islam with Sunni, Sufi, Shia, Ismaili, Salafist etc .. versions and Buddhism with Theravada, Mahayana, Amidism (Pure Land), Zen, Nichiren, Vajrayana (Tibetan) etc ..

  7. Katydid says

    Oh, good point StevoR; in Christianity you have Mr. Rogers (an ordained minister) who had a children’s show for decades that modelled curiosity and learning and respect for other people and kindness…and the Mormon wacko Bundy family who grew so furious at being asked to pay the nominal fee for grazing their cattle on public property that they took over a wildlife refuge with guns and threats againt park rangers and other US citizens.

    You have Jimmy Carter, a Baptist who went to the US Naval Academy, became a nuclear scientist, and then went on to President of the USA all while living his values of treating others as you would want to be treated and conserving the environment…and then the fundamentalist family in Tara Westover’s biography Educated, who had umpteen children and only one book in the house while claiming to homeschool, who made their living picking through other people’s trash for scrap metal and selling magic oil potions to the gullible, and brutalized their own family members.

    The “one true faith” seems to have an infinite variation in sects, and a bunch of people who claim they follow every single word in their bible literally while acting very differently from the other people who insist they follow every single word in their bible literally.

  8. stephensherrier says

    Dr. Sarah,

    I’d like to respond to your comment #1.

    I refer to the (somewhat varying) passages in Matthew and Mark where—to put it bluntly—Jesus calls a gentile woman a “dog.” You are quite correct to find that reference jarring, though—while it could give neither of us pleasure to concede—it would have been less jarring in Jesus’ day.

    I am not here to defend any notion of Bible perfection or inerrancy you might have heard (and I know you don’t need to be told how such views necessarily involve perfect recollection, transmission, recording, compilation, and so on.) I have never been able to grasp the functional difference between a speaker saying, “Heed the Bible, because it is perfect,” and, “Heed me, because I am perfect.”

    What I would like to present now is the notion that no one involved in proselytizing (or anything akin to it) ought to be denied the chief consideration I have in mind: Every aspect of every belief system is dragged in from somewhere, and every aspect looks like it has been dragged. I submit that an essential element of criticism consists of (admittedly vague) appreciation of how much additional dragging is enough.

    To illustrate, I present not Jesus calling a gentile woman a “dog” (a woman described in the same texts as being able—instantly and under great duress—to win a theological argument with the Messiah, Son of the Most High God—you get the point.) No; I will present Jesus, hanging on a cross of torment, thinking of his mother and commending her as “Mother” to “the disciple standing by, whom he loved.”

    I have heard many contentions that Jesus’ life never happened, and even more contentions about what supposedly happened between Jesus and the disciple “whom he loved,” but I have yet to come across criticisms—political or otherwise—of the bequest of the gasping, bleeding Jesus to his mother and her new “son.” Why not?

    Was Jesus being anti-feminist, assuming a woman needed taking care of? Was he being ageist? Was he being manipulative, given his psychological leverage at that moment? Was he setting his frail, bereaved—and now psychologically disempowered—mother up for the risk of domestic abuse? Was Jesus trying to sublimate or justify homosexuality by presenting the man he could never make spouse to be Mary’s effectual child-in-law?

    I assume that, in the course of reading the preceding paragraph, all but the most hard-bitten critics would reach a point of thinking something like, “Enough already! How much fair sport is there in so torturing an ancient text?” Or at least I have presumed as much from my audience.

    Whether it is the gentile woman begging for her daughter’s healing, the woman caught in adultery, or Mary at the foot of the cross—Jesus sends them all away succored and with greater dignity than before in a cruel, patriarchal, tribal age. I do not assume that everyone will hold those accounts in the same esteem I do, but I do assume that fair discourse will consider everyone’s belief sets in their respective contexts.

    Or to put it another way: To be taken seriously in most religious discourse—even if holding so limited a view as embracing only the Jesus accounts of the Gospels—a speaker is usually asked to concede that biblical perfection is beyond the pale. To be taken to task then, because the Jesus of (limited) record slipped up here or there, did not speak against this, did not anticipate that—is unfair, and can be substantively misleading. In substance, Jesus’ ministry upheld the essential kinship of all; evidence to the contrary consists largely of quibbles.

  9. ShifterCat says

    @owlmirror: Judaism seems to have had the mindset that Jews should worship Yahweh not because He’s the only god, but because he’s THEIR god. (“the one who led you out of Egypt”, etc.)

    When my friend was a kid in Sunday School, he used to annoy the teachers by pointing out that the phrase “other gods” indicates that more deities exist. (This friend went on to become Asatruar.) Many Bibles have since been edited to make that phrase “false gods”, likely to shut down such inconvenient observations.

    And then there’s the interesting fact that the word they used in the Genesis I fragment was “Elohim”, a PLURAL noun…

  10. Katydid says

    @stephensherrier: points for effort, but people who don’t belong to the Christian church are not necessarily ignorant of the stories. Most of us were raised in the Christian church and many of us read the bible, some more than once. I do give you props for mentioning that even in the bible, the Messiah did “slip up” from time to time (cursing a fig tree for not bearing fruit out-of-season being one famous example, crying out to God for letting him suffer on the cross being another)–that’s refreshing after the reams and reams of text insisting “the bible is completely inerrant and perfect in every way”. Ultimately, though, it’s irrelevant to people who do not believe Jesus ever existed.

    For many who no longer believe or never believed–or even just took a comparative religion class in college–a huge, eye-opening moment is how much the stories and themes in the Christian holy book are the same as the stories and themes floating all around the Middle East in that time period, including faiths that are much older than Christianity. It’s also eye-opening to read the Christian gospels and realize they contradict each other on points great and small. Then there’s the matter of the stories of Genesis, in the OT; they contradict each other, too. Then there’s the things that simply can’t be, like one version of the creation story stating plants being created before the sun, for example.

    I’m making a guess here based on the people I know IRL and many whose words I’ve read online that people who are not Christians don’t particuarly care if other people are…they simply don’t want their lives to be circumscribed by Christian beliefs.

  11. Owlmirror says

    @ShifterCat: Yes, indeed. When the texts are studied without religious presuppositions, and also taking into account the archeological findings in the Ancient Near and Middle East, it’s clear that the cult of Yahweh was one among many that managed to become ascendant, and the priests of that cult wanted a monopoly on religious adherence.

    Study of archaeology also shows that the ancient tribes of Israel/Judah were never “brought out” of Egypt as described in the bible. The Exodus might be a repurposed historical memory of the fact that Egypt controlled Canaan for centuries, and then lost that control.

  12. stephensherrier says

    @Katydid, thank you for the feedback. I’d also like to add something, if I might, to the concern you expressed for people who “simply don’t want their lives to be circumscribed by Christian beliefs.” I think those people might do well to consider the ways in which, unbeknown to them, their lives have been permeated by Christian beliefs—which I do not mean as a good thing.

    Anything that makes people question the content of the Bible is to the good. Questioning its historical nature is as good a start as any, which is why I wonder if something might be lost if you have said once and for all, “Ultimately, though, it’s irrelevant to people who do not believe Jesus ever existed.”

    If there is proselytizing I can do on any subject, it would be this: The very last and least question about the teachings of Jesus is the irrelevant matter of his existence.

    You are right to mention the older or contemporaneous faiths of the first-century near East. Let us assume those faiths had notions of ethics and of historicity in the same relative emphasis as evinced by the Gospel accounts of Jesus (leaving out the Gospels’ tacked-on starts and finishes). If we could somehow talk to those first century near-Eastern “pagans,” or happened upon an undiscovered remnant, we would expect them to speak of their relationship to the divine, not of their contentions about historically-verifiable persons or events. Certainly the original nations of the Americas are able to relate religious ethics as sublime as any without sifting around in sediment layers.

    One of the most problematic aspects of Christianity is its tendency to claim advantage in arguments by framing them in light of the very culture that Christianity has created. The best example of this that I have found is the recently deceased Ravi Zacharias. In his origins and his early life he participated in the Christian intellectual diaspora that attended the spread of Western colonialism, beginning with being born and raised as a Christian in India.

    So Zacharias could easily be viewed as trans-cultural, and it was perhaps not coincidental that he emphasized a short list of ostensibly universal requirements of a satisfactory religion. Christianity, according to Zacharias, was the only satisfactory one. His whole enterprise, of course, was little more than a parlor trick: defining the universal needs of mankind by the felt needs of the culture Christianity created and then—surprise, surprise—finding that only Christianity met those needs.

    One of those religious needs of our culture is historicity—the contention that this or that happened in time and space. This is not the case in the heart of the Gospels. Jesus spoke of things that had both happened and were yet to happen; things that were yet to happen while they were already happening; things that were happening neither here nor there yet were still happening in both places—there is no hiding or denying this.

    Time and space meant nothing to Jesus (sort of a no-brainer when we consider the God he was glorifying), yet time and space represented as historicity mean everything to modern Christianity. And, in my experience, it is the importance of the question of historicity that matters to them, not how it is answered. Tell them you admire the ethics of their Savior but deny him a place in your view of history, and they’ll view you benignly as a logical puzzle to solve; tell them historicity matters not to you and you’d like to devote all that much more attention to Jesus’ teachings about religious ethics, and they’ll consider you a lurking menace.

    Christianity prefers to choose its menaces, framed to its advantages, whether it views itself as triumphant or besieged. For instance, there is the fallacy of the secular Western world as supposedly “post-Christian.” Let the example in question be an “un-churched”, “liberal”-ly educated young journalist trying to address “religious issues,” and you can bet your bottom dollar you’ll hear the reporter talking about evolution, sexual mores, and abortion—because the template of un-religion or even anti-religion in the West is still Christianity and its hobbyhorses.

    What interests me most, and what concerns me most, is that Christianity be subjected to every possible mode of analysis. Full disclosure: I am thinking that the teachings of Jesus in the four Gospels are correct. However, I don’t believe I can establish that by following the rules of engagement that Christianity, in its cultural ascendancy, has laid out—to its own unfair advantage.

    The secular Western world’s answer to Christianity might be “No,” but that does not change the fact that the question of religion itself is almost invariably phrased in terms of Christianity, and the prevailing approaches to the question itself have usually been supplied—for good or (mostly) ill—by Christian thought modes.

  13. Katydid says

    @stephensherrier, I’m enjoying this chat.

    Something I find interesting is that every culture the world has ever known has had “The Golden Rule”, which simply put has been to treat others the way you would like to be treated. There’s a good reason for this; humans are social primates and society needs certain rules to keep from devolving into chaos. In The Sermon on the Mount, Jesus lays this out as “love your neighbor as yourself” and then tacks on “love your God”. Fair enough; all preachers and salesmen want you to buy their product.

    However, not everything Jesus prophesized was true–the most notable being that he would return within the lifetime of those hearing him speak those words. That’s just the most obvious example; there are others.

    To address your comment of abortion, evolution, and sexual mores being modern trains of thought and proof of “post-Christian” thinking; abortion has been practiced so long as there have been pregnant people. As in the bible, often against the will of the pregnant person. In the USA it wasn’t an issue until the evangelicals realized the tide was turning against them in their fight to remain racist, so they turned to abortion to whip up converts.

    As for evolution; Charles Darwin was one of several who were pursuing that line of thought, and he wrote The Origin of the Species in 1859, which is hardly recent but absolutely controversial at the time. As you pointed out, it’s mostly Christians who have a problem with the concept that everything changes over time, and with the concept of accepting new information (for example, Galileo’s discoveries in the late 1500s, which is also certainly not of the “post-Christian” era).

    During the timeframes both Darwin and Gallileo lived, it was also perfectly acceptable for men to rape young girls and women with no consequence and to keep mistresses in addition to wives as it had been in the west for most of human history. The bible has no problem with that, either, and there are many accounts of a man being able to beat his wife for any reason or no reason, so long as the rod was no thicker than his thumb. Child abuse was also heartily promoted–spare the rod, spoil the child, after all. The abused had no recourse because that’s how it was in the bible and Western society was based in Christianity.

    In the USA starting in the late 1950s/early 1960s as a post-war boom allowed for more women to be educated and learn to fight for their rights did the tide change and women demand to be treated as human beings and to be able to give consent to sexual attention. If you pay attention to the news, we’re not completely there yet but–as the phrase goes–“we’ve come a long way, baby.” <– in case it's not obvious, that last quote was not meant to denigrate you, but to poke fun at a sexist marketing ad.

  14. StevoR says

    @ 9. ShifterCat : “And then there’s the interesting fact that the word they used in the Genesis I fragment was “Elohim”, a PLURAL noun…”

    Plus then there’s the goddess and wife of Yahweh / Jehovah Shekinah :

    For those readers unfamiliar with the The Shekinah, it might come as a surprise to find that she is a female divinity who is present in The Bible (Old Testament) and who is sometimes described as “The Wife of God” (being the “God” of Abramaic religions).

    “The Shekinah is first hinted at as the unnamed Wisdom Goddess of the books of the Old Testament, as well as being named in apocryphal and pseudoepigraphical books from the latter part of this period, spanning a thousand years from the seventh or sixth century BCE through to the third or fourth century CE. Whilst it has been suggested that the Shekinah was simply a hypostasis of God’s glory, personifying his qualities, the traces found in these ancient writings make it clear that she was much more than this.”

    Source :

    As well as the line somewhere about the Christian /Jewish God stating that he is : “..a Jealous god.” (English transliteration /translation not original Hebrew /Aramaic / Greek etc (?) but still.. )

  15. says

    @Katydid, I’d like to offer a couple of thoughts about “The Golden Rule,” which, as you aptly say, “simply put has been to treat others the way you would like to be treated.” I’d like to offer those thoughts in an attempt to illustrate an additional teaching of Jesus that tends to be overlooked.

    The Golden Rule, like all rules, can become inhumane if not handled with—well—humanity. This point was driven home to me in the course of healthcare employment that involved cultural sensitivity training. The training was so bold as to insist that we discard The Golden Rule—at least in its simplest application. The organization’s reasoning, as I’m sure you’ll agree, made a certain sort of sense: People from different cultures might well value different modes of interpersonal treatment, and therefore none of us should assume that anyone else would even want to be treated as we ourselves would want.

    Of course, as I’m sure you’ll agree again, that approach does not really invalidate The Rule; The Rule can simply be recast in more general terms: We each want to be understood and treated benevolently as individual human beings, and we each should want the same for others.

    I’m sure you can imagine a host of scenarios in which humane versus inhumane application of The Golden Rule might play out. The best of example I can think of is race relations. A white person can say, “I’m OK with being teased about my background; why should a black person feel any differently?”—when of course the Western world’s historical take on “backgrounds” has been the foibles of white groups and the questioned humanity of black groups.

    Or there is the old “My Irish (or whatever) ancestors were treated terribly when they came here; what is so special about what black people have gone through?” Treat people as categorized abstractions, and you can come up with virtually any twisted application of The Golden Rule you please. As I’m sure you’ll agree, few things have retarded the furtherance of race relations more than reluctance on the part of many people—perhaps all people at times—to frankly address the matter in terms of the endless complications of actual humanity, rather than in terms of the more convenient interplay of disembodied grievances and equally disembodied responses.

    And the institutions of the Western world have been masterful at suppressing dissent by shaming appeals to common humanity. Aggrieved parties are expected to present their complaints in forms acceptable to the powers that be, and are then belittled precisely for having submitted themselves to the prescribed channels. Generation after generation of activists have presented themselves to the established institutions—attempting to present themselves as “proper”—and have seen their contentions about poverty and deadly despair in their communities undercut by the fact that the activists themselves appear well-fed and well-groomed enough.

    (Tellingly, concerns about such ostensibly soft matters as despair and suicide become matters of hard reality when seen through one’s own lens. I don’t imagine that you are unaware how comfortable American politicians, confronted by the unusual reality of despair among—mostly white—business owners suffering in the pandemic lockdowns, have suddenly become intent on preventing suicides.)

    There are innumerable ways in which societies refuse to accept how being oppressed or degraded is not some intractable shortcoming or some temporary—even character-building—experience to be overcome. Being oppressed or degraded is deadly, and is the moral equivalent of murder. In this light I present the following statement from the Gospel of Matthew—the additional teaching of Jesus that I mentioned earlier. (Please forgive the King James; I consult others but don’t know which to favor.)

    “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment:

    “But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire” (5:21-22).

    For two thousand years the Western world has ignored that passage, and I fear that the present intellectual climate bodes no better for the wisdom of the passage. The teachings of Jesus have been subsumed into a larger Christianity, and Christianity—taken altogether—has been characterized as the opponent of secular humanism. I will grant as well that enlightened moderns can probably find more problems with that passage from Matthew than there are words in it.

    I would ask, however, how Jesus’ statement quoted above would be received now if it was newly discovered as some pagan writing dug up from some temple complex. Degrading others is a violation of The Law of Life—whoever said that was a great prophet.

  16. Katydid says

    @stephensherrier; I suspect you missed my larger point that every civilization ever has had The Golden Rule…because that’s a basic tenet of the human species. It’s also one of the first lessons we teach our own young when they’re old enough to reason, e.g. “Don’t hit your sister–you wouldn’t like it if she hit you, now, would you?”

    I also suggest you’re taking the rule to places it doesn’t need to go. You would like to be treated with basic civility and your concerns heard, yes? Sure you would; everyone would. Even in medical situations. This is on display in the tv series New Amsterdam, where the new hospital director’s catchphrase is, “How can I help?” This often stops his opponents in their tracks because they’re preparing for a (verbal, usually) battle, and instead, he treats them with respect.

    What you’r attributing to the Jesus in the bible is something that’s been present in every functional civilization.

  17. says

    @Katydid, I’d like to ask you to consider the matter that got me on to this thread: A gentile woman goes to Jesus for help with her daughter, and he calls them both “dogs.”

    OK, there is more to the story than that, which you can possibly recite from memory as well as I can, or better. But if you were Jesus, how would you get the woman out of her predicament?

    The woman had probably transgressed who-knows-how-many social norms by approaching, in gentile territory, an itinerant Jewish preacher—not on a medical matter but a spiritual one. In the first-century Levant, for goodness’ sake. And in her desperation she has loudly hailed Jesus as “Lord.” Jesus’ chief thought might have been how to get her safely home before she was abused and killed—to say nothing of what might have happened to her daughter.

    How better for Jesus to thread the needle on this dangerous business than for him to emphasize the personal distance between him and the gentile woman, and to make the granting of the favor a sop thrown to a gentile for besting a Jew? The Matthew account even highlights Jesus’ rhetorical defeat as happening in front of his disciples, after they had asked him to help the woman. At the expense of his own dignity, Jesus could see to it that no one was offended.

    I am squeezing the text in an outrageous manner, but I am simultaneously hoping to challenge the bounds of what we think sensible. I am not entirely comfortable with the Jesus and the Gentile Woman story. I don’t imagine it was written to make me feel comfortable. At the moment, I think it was written to challenge the reader’s conceptions of the limitations of God’s blessings. If I were a student tasked with describing the story—simply as a story—in a class assignment, that’s exactly what I would say, and if I intended to be cute and extract some alternate meaning by opining from two thousand years away about a use of the word “dogs,” I could expect to be told I was engaging in fancy.

    And I will say, without wishing to give offense, that it was a fancy on Dr. Sarah’s part that got me thinking about all this. As she wrote in comment 1, about a reader’s take on Jesus and the “dogs” part:

    “I understand that you believe that this behaviour was somehow excusable. I do not agree with you and do not think anyone would find it acceptable if this was the response that they or a loved one received in a moment of desperation.”

    Sadly, I would have to disagree, and not for any reason that throws a good light on religion. People embracing all manner of degradation to themselves, in order to avail themselves of the benefits of religion, is part of the dark tactics of proselytism. (This is probably a good place to mention something else: Jesus describes elsewhere conversion to Judaism. While not likely, it would have been possible for the woman to lose the status of “dog”; Jesus is not insulting her over immutable matters like race or the facts of ethnicity, and as a son of David he was also acknowledged as a descendant of the gentile convert Ruth.)

    With all due respect to Dr. Sarah, there are two aspects of her response that trouble me. First, there is the statement, “I . . . do not think anyone would find it acceptable if this was the response that they or a loved one received in a moment of desperation.” While it might not leap to everyone’s mind in such a discussion, it is not outlandish to suggest that there may well be any number of possible individual responses that people have in moments of desperation—none of them of course wrong.

    That is why I have taken to emphasizing such things as Jesus’ warning that words can be deadly. I do not think it is for nothing that I have heard social workers tell people in moments of desperation that no emotional response is by definition “wrong” when one is in a crisis. I’m afraid that many of us who have suffered through difficulties have suffered yet again at the hands of amateurish “Golden Rulers,” who only want to extend such comfort as they imagine they themselves would want.

    The second concern I have with Dr. Sarah’s response has to do with the ease with which any of us might slot into such a story predispositions from our own culture. I know I risk sounding impertinent, but the woman in question was not a hypothetical single mother in a working-class suburb, returning each day to a kitchen table stacked with documents and correspondence about her daughter’s dire medical condition. She was not in a position to write a scathing letter to Medicare or the National Health System about how some functionary had treated her or her daughter like a dog.

    She is shown in the first-century Gospel story acting on her own, and it is decidedly not outlandish to imagine that she was without a male to protect her. Or she might have been driven to her actions independently of her husband or guardian, which could be even worse. Anything horrible could have happened to her, and she might have experienced already a life of untold horrors. The Gospel story shows her receiving the comfort she asked for—after she sought Jesus out when he was seeking respite, and after she asked him to do, on gentile turf, something that could well have led him to his death—after unimaginable tortures.

    If it be said that the story shows Jesus treating the woman in a way we find disturbing, I cannot argue the point. Of course, if one would like to contend that a logical conception of a God worth worshiping is a God who would not let little girls be afflicted in the first place, there is not much for me to argue against there either.

    So of course any discussion about religion requires the parties to agree on matters worth discussing, even if some of the parties will entertain the matters only provisionally. Unfortunately we usually end up talking to each other, not talking about the matter at hand.

    I’ve been calling the text in question The Story of Jesus and the Gentile Woman (as distinct from the one in which he breaks social norms in speaking to a Samaritan woman.) I think the story—along with the balance of Jesus’ ministry in the Gospels—is valuable and timeless. In my tiresome way I say so.

    I’ll forego their reasoning, but certain evangelicals might as well call it The Story of How Jesus Presaged Peter and Paul’s Mission to the Gentiles and Demonstrated the Primacy of Faith. That characterization is a fancy of extreme proportions. I submit, however, that there is no greater comparative value in effectively calling it The Story of How Jesus Called a Terror-Stricken Woman a Dog.

  18. Katydid says

    @stephensherrier, the following is said in all honesty and not a bit of snark: it’s very clear that you’ve found a belief system that works for you, and that’s great. I understand your desire to share what makes you so happy. You’ve shown great patience in your attempts to explain what you find so compelling. However, speaking entirely for myself here, this comes across to me as a very-sincere and very well-meaing person trying to convince me of the merits of Coca-Cola (i.e. Christianity) over Pepsi (i.e. any other faith), when in fact I’ve tried Coca-Cola and Pepsi and find neither suits me. Thank you sincerely for not arguing the clearly I’ve never heard of Coca-Cola or I’d be utterly devoted to it.

  19. anat says

    Owlmirror @11: The cult of Yahweh had a rather convoluted history. The cult that is attested in archaeology from, say, the 7th century BCE was something completely unrecognizable to anyone whose baseline is, say, 19th-21st century Orthodox Judaism. There were multiple Yahwehs! – There was Yahweh of Samaria, and Yahweh of Teman and so forth. And while redactors attempted to cover the history, its remnants exist in the Hebrew Bible. The Bible speaks of Yahweh coming from Seir and other specific locales. He was one of El’s 70 sons – El was the creator god, Yahweh, Chemosh, Baal, Milchom and the rest were each gods of specific nations (of which there were 70, people probably found it hard to imagine more tribes/nations than that). He seems to have been a volcano and war god at some point (from his descriptions), but then in 7th-6th century BCE Judah he appears to have been a sun god, considering the findings of signets where Yahwistic names appear with the symbol of the scarab, and the fact that many personal names from the time associate Yahweh with light and light-sources.

    This version of Yahweh was replaced by a more universal Yahweh during the Persian era, and some actually hypothesize that it was the Persians who encouraged this transition (or even originated it) when they wanted to strengthen the south-western border of their empire – whether by the settlement of Jews in the province of Yehud and the settlement of Jewish soldiers in Elephantine (an island on the Nile, currently the location of the Aswan dam).

    And then after the destruction of the ‘second’ temple (well, there were many others…) with the end of the Jewish temple-based cult (if we exclude the Samaritans, who still make Passover sacrifices to this very day) the rabbis told God to STFU and stop telling them how to interpret his laws, and thus Rabbinical Judaism, ancestor to Orthodox Judaism evolved (though its roots go back to the 2nd century BCE).

  20. Dr Sarah says

    @stephensherrier: Hello! Thanks so much for coming to join in, and I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to reply; I hope that won’t put you off contributing in the future.

    With regard to the story of Jesus and the Gentile woman:

    First, some clarifying context; the only reason I brought this story up was because the commenter to whom I was replying advised us that we should judge Christianity by Jesus (which was in itself a reaction to comments about the actions of various other Christians). I found this quite ironic, as I hadn’t thought much of Jesus’s character on attempting to read the gospels, and had only gone on investigating the truth of Christianity’s claims because I chose not to judge Christianity by Jesus. I therefore brought it up not as a reason to reject Christianity, but as a reason to reject the idea that it was a good idea (from his viewpoint) to ask non-believers to judge Christianity by Jesus.

    (I don’t believe the story is enough reason to reject Christianity in its entirety. I do believe, however, that it puts a major crimp in the usual Christian claim that Jesus is the embodiment of an overwhelmingly kind and loving God.)

    It hadn’t been my intention to harp on about this particular story too much, but a number of your comments leave me feeling either puzzled, intrigued, or in strong enough disagreement to reply:

    Jesus sends them all away succored and with greater dignity than before

    I don’t believe someone called a dog in a situation in which they don’t dare argue goes away ‘succoured’ or ‘with greater dignity’.

    In substance, Jesus’ ministry upheld the essential kinship of all; evidence to the contrary consists largely of quibbles.

    I really don’t think calling someone a dog – doing so, moreover, in what was effectively a relationship of unequal power (because, whatever power she might have had over him in other circumstances, in this case he was supposedly the one person who could give her what she most desperately wanted) – is a ‘quibble’.

    Jesus’ chief thought might have been how to get her safely home before she was abused and killed—to say nothing of what might have happened to her daughter.

    That is a take on it I’d not heard before, and it’s certainly one I’m willing to consider; the problem is, however, that I can’t see any plausible way in which he could have thought that insulting her would have helped the situation. If you can think of such a way then I’m quite happy to read and consider it.

    While it might not leap to everyone’s mind in such a discussion, it is not outlandish to suggest that there may well be any number of possible individual responses that people have in moments of desperation—none of them of course wrong.

    There’s a lot that could be said about this, but I think the main point is that Jesus was not the one in the moment of desperation here.

    The second concern I have with Dr. Sarah’s response has to do with the ease with which any of us might slot into such a story predispositions from our own culture. I know I risk sounding impertinent, but the woman in question was not a hypothetical single mother in a working-class suburb, returning each day to a kitchen table stacked with documents and correspondence about her daughter’s dire medical condition. She was not in a position to write a scathing letter to Medicare or the National Health System about how some functionary had treated her or her daughter like a dog.

    Not meaning to be dense, but I’m struggling to understand what point you’re trying to make here.

    Thanks once again for taking the trouble to contribute, and I hope you’ll come back for this and/or other discussions in the future.

  21. StevoR says

    @20. anat : Thanks for that. Very informative & interesting – and I’m curious to know where you got all that info from? Was it a specific book or site or combination of many sources or what please?

  22. says

    @Dr Sarah, I’m afraid my comments were somewhat disjointed. My part in this thread was more experiential than argumentative, as I’ll explain below.

    The story of Jesus and the Gentile Woman, which had always seemed to me to be a too-tidy collection of convenient sentences, suddenly seemed to come alive for me—or perhaps I should say, came alive with possibilities. There is so much in the story that we don’t know, and not simply because are not given all the details; we are also able only with difficulty to grasp at what certain things meant back then. That is why I was focused momentarily on the difference between the woman in the story and any modern-day Western conception of a person in an analogous position. Not only can we scarcely imagine the extent of the powerlessness of the gentile woman; we can also only guess at any possible conception she might have had of personal agency.

    For all we know, her memory of her successful retort to Jesus might have been the proudest moment of her life. (Or did I just game the whole discussion by using “retort” instead of “response”?) Give a believer half a chance, and he or she might claim that Jesus knew all along what the woman would say. Or maybe he was just that smart a guy.

    Or, conversely, a person could contend that the gentile woman would have been mortally offended. That conjecture has a certain logic, but the next logical step would be to look at the story to see if there is any evidence to support that conjecture. There is none. The story does not say the woman is offended. Matthew has Jesus tell her, “O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt”; Mark has him say, “For this saying go thy way; the devil is gone out of thy daughter.” We might say that the woman’s response is not recorded. We could claim that the woman had an overall negative experience. Or we could claim that her experience was thoroughly tarnished by Jesus’ response.

    And then someone would say, “Just what is there about ‘the devil is gone out of thy daughter’ that you don’t understand?” Particulars of demonology aside, that is really the point here: The story is either one of unspeakable joy, or it—along with countless other ancient tales—would have to be judged unintelligible because not every detail is spelled out. I referred earlier to Jesus saying to his disciple about (the presumably widowed) Mary, “Behold thy mother!” That gesture was meant as a great honor, and has always been taken as such—that is the story. Or perhaps we can imagine a more explicitly described ending in which the disciple says to himself, “Oh, crap! Everything that woman touches dies.” (My idea of humor.)

    The story we have of Jesus and the Gentile Woman is a story of a joyous result. Maybe the story is crap, but it is not other than what it is. I don’t recall anyone claiming that it possesses traits of being a fragment or an interpolation; someone wrote it as part of the Gospels, and that same someone wrote it as something joyous.

    Indeed, all we have of the story is the story itself and the fact of its inclusion in the Gospels. This is where my “experience” element (which I referred to at the start of this comment) came in. As part of the Gospels, the story of Jesus and the Gentile Woman is part of the story of Jesus the man. Whether he was also God is immaterial to this discussion, as long as it is reckoned that he felt as a man—including generalized fear and specifically dread of powerlessness before tormentors. I’ve never known a human being I could describe differently.

    In thinking about the Gentile Woman story, then, it suddenly occurred to me to think, “Steve! Just what is there about being an itinerant, unaccredited, legally-suspect first-century Jewish preacher among Gentiles that you don’t understand?” (A whole lot, of course, as it turns out, but one element of Jesus’ role cannot be misunderstood: dread.)

    I don’t think the story of Jesus and the Gentile Woman can be understood in the absence of the element of fear, and fear filled the room that was the setting of the story. I think the element of fear is what humanism (in its broadest sense) can lay hold of here—if I am correct in assuming that humanism encompasses not merely level-headed reason, but also a level-headed appreciation of the limits of human beings. It is in that vein, Dr. Sarah, that I would make the following responses.

    First, I am slightly puzzled why you would say, “I can’t see any plausible way in which he could have thought that insulting her would have helped the situation. If you can think of such a way then I’m quite happy to read and consider it,” when you are making that statement precisely in response to my presentation of a conjecture about a concern on Jesus’ part about “how to get her safely home” by letting her best him in the exchange. Perhaps I should not have been so quick to admit to “squeezing the text in an outrageous manner,” and I’m not sure how I can meet your standard of plausibility, but I would ask you to understand what you have put me up against.

    For instance, I might contend that, for all we know, the yes-I-know-I’m-a-dog-but-even-dogs-have-rights response might have been a colloquialism that had been shorn of its harsher connotations. (Certainly commentators and critics are ever eager to discover that this-or-that saying is not original to the Gospels.) I don’t know how to make you believe that such a contention is plausible (or perhaps I’m just being “outrageous” again), but I must ask you to consider one thing: I am not responding, with such conjectures I might offer, to something in the story in question—I am responding to a previous conjecture to the effect that the woman has been insulted, and that moreover the element of insult would inform the dynamic between the woman and Jesus.

    For all we know, the woman in question might have been amazed that Jesus responded to her at all; certainly a similar potentiality exists in the story of the Samaritan woman, and there does not seem to be any question that severe social norms to such effect did exist, and that Jesus routinely defied them at his own peril. That much is in the Gospels, and forms part of the basis of the assumption that the ministry of Jesus was shot through with danger and fear. The Gentile Woman’s internalization of an insult, on the other hand, would be an inference on our part—something we might discuss all we like, but never something detachable from the element of inference.

    Next, I would like to explore the issue of the interplay of fear between the Gentile Woman and Jesus. I am somewhat surprised that you would say, “I don’t believe someone called a dog in a situation in which they don’t dare argue goes away ‘succoured’ or ‘with greater dignity’”—surprised, I say, because the woman in question definitely does argue (or at least I wouldn’t know how else to describe it.) I’m not sure you are giving either her or Jesus enough credit. You are correct in saying that, “in this case he was supposedly the one person who could give her what she most desperately wanted”—and in that case her every response, even her every hesitation, might have doomed her prospect of freeing her daughter from hellish torment. I cannot say that the original author did not envision the woman flinching in shame and rage at the word “dogs,” but that is not how he (or she) wrote it. Many generations of young women have heard the story of the Gentile Woman stepping into the blow and landing as potent a response as might be plausibly imagined.

    I have a concern when you say, “I really don’t think calling someone a dog – doing so, moreover, in what was effectively a relationship of unequal power (because, whatever power she might have had over him in other circumstances, in this case he was supposedly the one person who could give her what she most desperately wanted) – is a ‘quibble’.” And my concern is not about your objection to “quibble,” but rather your reference to “whatever power she might have had over him in other circumstances.” I contend that the word “other” is misleading.

    The Gentile Woman and Jesus were imperiled in the exact same circumstances. What went on in that room could have gotten either or both of them killed, and most horribly. That, I contend, would be the most appropriate humanist appraisal (and requires, notably, nothing supernatural.) It is the hindsight-motivated post-Calvary Christian view of Jesus, floating through his ministry in serene majesty and on an unalterable timetable, that inflicts upon us the imagery of Jesus making the miserable woman grovel on the floor.

    Jesus’ ministry was not so in the Gospels. Even as early as the wedding in Cana, Jesus allows another woman, his mother Mary, to push him into altering—perhaps shortening—his timetable, and all because she felt sorry for hosts who had run out of wine.

    So I ask you to reconsider the idea that a “main point is that Jesus was not the one in the moment of desperation here.” The Gospels are about nothing more than they are about Jesus of Nazareth (even if he was the wackiest crackpot who ever lived) putting himself in a constant position of desperation. He is the character who was approached—nay, besieged—by the woman with the demon-possessed daughter. And this brings us back, I believe, Dr. Sarah, to where you started your response to me—with the business of Christianity judged (or not) by the character of Jesus. I think perhaps the real question is who does the judging, and upon what premises.

    I appreciate the hearing I have been given on this topic here, and I suppose you might guess that I believe humanism has far more salient things to say about Jesus than does Christianity.

  23. says

    @Dr. Sarah, I’m feeling somewhat silly now. I was scrolling back to your previous posts, and I had not realized you had dealt with Jesus and the Gentile Woman before, and in greater depth than just the “insult” angle:

    This all left me thinking about a certain aspect of the gentile woman story (an aspect also of the “woman with an unresolved chronic hemorrhage” story.) In both stories people present Jesus with needs, irrespective of any textual evidence that they had in common with Jesus any ostensibly essential theological notions. At least this theme should get me done with my proselytizing more (or less) quickly.

    So here goes: I offer the notion that Jesus taught neither the religion of Judaism (or a strain thereof) nor a new religion called Christianity (with its myriad strains.) Rather, I contend (along with, I believe, that quintessential know-it-all layman H. G. Wells) that Jesus did not teach a religion, but Religion itself. (Please forgive the capital “R”, but I really think I need it here.)

    Some of the characters in the Gospels (often, I will not fail to note, women) present themselves to Jesus in a way in which persons have overwhelmingly NOT been allowed to present themselves to clergy through the ages: as unschooled persons having in effect invented their own religions, harkening only to the presumed benevolence of The Great Organizing Principle of the Universe. (Please forgive me again, but that’s the best honorific I can come up with.)

    The gentile woman believed that the universe held a more comforting place for her and her daughter than was related by Jesus’ side of the argument; the woman with the chronic issue of blood believed that the comfort that Jesus expressed to the multitudes would not stint to provide help merely because of the niceties of ritual. I know those examples are tenuous things upon which to build theories about theology, but in each instance the Gospels have Jesus providing us some help.

    In Mark, Jesus says to the woman cured of her disease, “Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace”; in Matthew, Jesus says to the gentile woman, “O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt.” I don’t want to speak too broadly, and I know many Christian ministries give help freely to one and all, but there is at least a latent hope that generosity will lead to opportunities for spiritual ministry—education or encouragement for believers, salvation for unbelievers.

    In contrast (especially in regard to the gentile woman), Jesus doesn’t seem to give a damn whether anything specifically religious happens next or not. In Mark, Jesus sends the gentile woman away, presumably as pagan and un-catechized as ever. Apparently, true religion is nonsectarian. Actually, it appears that Jesus’ religion, such as it is, would be unrecognizable to us moderns. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the question of what a person ought and ought not to be allowed to say.

    Jesus of Nazareth—by the standards of a time that would have embraced the harshest take on his insulting language to the gentile woman—insulted himself and his heavenly father. As long as the listener to Jesus’ preaching grasped onto Jesus’ regard for the ineffable divine, he did not care if he himself was blasphemed—even as Jesus identified himself with God. Jesus expressed confidence that people can know what is right and are—when true to their nature (if not to the better angels thereof)—inclined to believe that the Ultimate does indeed embody and ratify all true virtue.

    Or as Jesus tells his disciples in John 14: “Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works’ sake.”

    I think there is an essential humanism (and humane quality) expressed in Jesus’ unconcern about being derided, even as he saw himself as son of man and son of God. The ancient pagans, as I recall, knew that the idol is not the god (despite the rantings of some of the OT prophets.) Similarly, neither a humanly-utterable name nor any human conceptualization of Jesus or God is really The Divine.

    So I have probably been too verbose again, but I would like to leave you with one thought. Jesus praised the faith of a gentile when he helped the gentile woman and sent her away unconverted. (And he was not reluctant to say that ordinary Gentiles were as morally laudable as ordinary Jews.) The gentile woman was extraordinary, to be sure, but she was especially notable in that her faith was lauded even as she was neither a Jew nor described as a disciple of Jesus.

    The story of the gentile woman hovers always over the heads of sectarian Christians. I think you will find that, rather than addressing her theological implications, Christians would rather argue about whether or not Jesus insulted her—ultimately a losing argument for them, but better for them than the alternative I just described.

  24. anat says

    StevoR @23:

    This comes from years of reading about in all sorts of places.
    Some accessible sources:
    The God Yhwh: origins, cults, transfomation into the only God – this is a lecture series by Thomas Römer, intended for the general public. It is actually the second series, the older one is also available on his site, however it is in the original French. if you understand it you can try that one first.

    Then there is an interesting blog – Is That in the Bible? – very deep research by a guy named Paul D, who appears to be a hobbyist. Go to ‘past articles by topic’ to see if there is anything you like, there are a few about early Israelite religion, especially The Origins of Yahweh and the Revived Kenite Hypothesis

    Another blog I sometimes read is – and though most of it is about the origins of Christianity, there is on occasion discussion of books related to the origins of the Hebrew Bible and the beliefs therein. For instance will get you their posts about Russell Gmirkin, who sees strong Hellenic influences on the Hebrew Bible and thus concludes that the first written version of the Torah was in Hellenic times. Very interesting fellow, I exchanged a few comments with him.

    I can’t come up with good sites about the Persian establishment initiating Judaism that doesn’t come across as a total conspiracy theory (with more than a bit of antisemitism), but the Persians did settle Jewish soldiers in Elephantine, and that community did leave a treasure of letters.

  25. StevoR says

    @ ^ anat : Cheers! Thankyou for that – very much appreciated and apologies for my slow response time here.

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