Missionary Kid: How I Learned to Say Goodbye details the fascinating life of a friend of mine, John Haines. Raised in a devoutly Evangelical home, John spent much of his life on the foreign mission field as his parents attempted to win Moroccan Muslims for Christ. John later returned to the United States, and is now a professor at the University of Toronto where he teaches music, film, and things medieval.
John’s book is memoir, but written in a delightful conversational form. I prefer this style of writing. Far too often, memoirs are page after page of boring minute details. Missionary Kid, instead, tells John’s life story in a way that allows readers to enter the story and travel along with the author as goes from Morocco to France and from Germany to the United States. If you are interested in reading a first person account of what it was like growing up in the home of Evangelical missionaries, this book is for you.
Missionary Kid: How I Learned to Say Goodbye comes in at 202 pages and can be purchased from Amazon, either in print ($9.95) or Kindle ($4.95) form.
The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.
David Cooper, pastor of Mountain Moves Ministries in Eloise, Florida, was arrested Thursday on accusations that he sexually assaulted and raped a minor girl. As of the publication of this post, Cooper is still listed as the pastor of Mountain Moves Ministries on its website.
A pastor in Florida exposed himself to a young girl several times in the past year – and raped another girl at least five times when she was a preteen decades ago, authorities said.
David Cooper, the 43-year-old pastor of Mountain Moves Ministries in Eloise, was arrested Thursday for the sexual battery of a girl under the age of twelve and lewd exhibition with another girl under twelve after a months-long probe was launched when deputies responded to a possible instance of sexual abuse last September, according to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.
The victim told investigators that Cooper had exposed his “private spot” to her four times since last year, when she was 7 years old, deputies said.
Weeks later, investigators learned of a second possible victim, an adult woman who said Cooper sexually abused her several times when she was a child, including raping her at least five times between the ages of 10 and 12.
Deputies, according to Miami Herald, tracked the woman down in January. Now 32, she told investigators that Cooper would enter her room as her mother slept sometime in 1995 or 1996 after Cooper started dating her mother and moved in with the family.
What started as comments about her body eventually moved to “oral sex and cuddling” and ultimately sex, she told Polk County investigators, who later listened in on a phone call between her and Cooper.
“What did you do then?” the woman asked Cooper, according to an arrest report obtained by the Miami Herald.
“You know what we did,” Cooper replied. “I can’t really discuss it openly, I’m not standing here alone.”
“Doing all that sexual stuff, it messes with a kid’s head, you know what I mean?” the woman replied. “And growing up and all that and trusting people, I was 10, I was a kid, you know what I mean, it messes with your head and it —– you up. But you are sorry?”
“I am,” replied Cooper, who denied taking the woman’s virginity but did apologize “for everything.” He was later arrested on Feb. 1, the Miami Herald reports.
Timothy Snyder, professor of history at Yale University, recently wrote a short book detailing the threat of tyranny facing Americans (and the world) today. Snyder gives twenty important lessons we must learn from history if we are to avoid tyranny. History does not repeat, says Professor Snyder, but it does instruct.
What follows is a summary of Snyder’s Twenty Lessons. I have expanded the text on the points I found most thought-provoking.
Do not obey in advance. Most of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then offer themselves without being asked. A citizen who adapts in this way is teaching power what it can do.
Beware the one-party state. The parties that remade states and suppressed rivals were not omnipotent from the start. They exploited a historic moment to make political life impossible for their opponents. So support the multi-party system and defend the rules of democratic elections. Vote in local and state elections while you can. Consider running for office.
Take responsibility for the face of the world. The symbols of today enable the reality of tomorrow. Notice the swastikas and other signs of hate. Do not look away, and do not get used to them. Remove them yourselves and set an example for others to do so.
Remember professional ethics.
Be wary of paramilitaries. When the men with guns who have always claimed to be against the system start wearing uniforms and marching with torches and pictures of a leader the end is nigh. When the pro-leader paramilitary and the official police and military intermingle, the end has come.
Be reflective if you must be armed. If you carry a weapon in public service, may God bless you and keep you. But know that evils of the past involved policemen and soldiers finding themselves, one day, doing irregular things. Be ready to say no.
Be kind to our language. Avoid pronouncing the phrases everyone else does. Think up your own way of speaking, even if only to convey that thing you think everyone is saying. Make an effort to separate yourself from the internet. Read books.
Believe in truth. To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.
Investigate. Figure things out for yourself. Spend more time with long articles. Subsidize investigative journalism by subscribing to print media. Realize that some of what is on the internet is there to harm you. Learn about sites that investigate propaganda campaigns (some of which comes from abroad). Take responsibility for what you communicate with others.
Make eye contact and small talk.
Practice corporeal politics. Power wants your body softening in your chair and your emotions dissipating on the screen. Get outside. Put your body in unfamiliar places with unfamiliar people. Make new friends and march with them.
Establish a private life.
Contribute to good causes.
Learn from peers in other countries. Keep up your friendships abroad, or make new friends in other countries. The present difficulties in the United States are an element of a larger trend. And no country is going to find a solution by itself.
Listen for dangerous words. Be alert to the use of the words extremism and terrorism. Be alive to the fatal notions of emergency and exception. Be angry about the treacherous use of patriotic vocabulary.
Be calm when the unthinkable arrives. Modern tyranny is terror management. When the terrorist attacks comes, remember that authoritarians exploit such events in order to consolidate power. The sudden disaster that requires the end of checks and balances, the dissolution of opposition parties, the suppression of freedom of expression, the right to a fair trial, and so on, is the oldest trick in the Hitlerian book. Do not fall for it.
Be a patriot. Set a good example of what America means for the generations to come. They will need it.
Be as courageous as you can.
On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons From the Twentieth Century can be read in one sitting. You can purchase the book here. Buying the book through the provided link will provide a few shekels for this site. Thank you!
Lauren Drain spent her teenage years as a member of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church. The Drain family moved to Topeka to join the church in 2001 and they remain members to this day. In 2007, Lauren was kicked out of the church. For a time she continued to live in Topeka. She is a nurse and now lives in Connecticut with her fiancé.
I wanted to like this book, I really did. Anyone who can escape the clutches of Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church is to be commended. Throughout the book, it is evident that Lauren was mistreated and abused, and it is a wonder that she escaped with any sense of self-worth. The church and her family did their best to destroy her mentally and emotionally, yet she came through it, and she deserves a lot of praise for what she has done with her life post-Westboro.
Banished reads like a teenage girl’s diary. Page after page detail Drain’s angst over boys, make-up, dating, marriage, and the fear of going to hell. Drain spends significant time repeatedly detailing how she craved the approval of the Phelpses and how she went about trying to gain their approval. Sadly, the book became quite redundant and I found myself speed reading.
Banished does offer a first-person account of how the Phelps clan lives. However, Drain has very little negative to say about the Phelpses or the church. As one reviewer on Amazon noted, it seemed that Drain, if she could, would go back to Westboro. I doubt this is actually the case, but Drain spends little time critiquing the vile behavior and beliefs of the Westboro church family. I don’t want to be harsh in my judgment because I have not walked in her shoes, and since her family is still members of Westboro, I can easily understand her hesitation to be severely critical of the Westboro church family.
Drain was not kicked out of Westboro because of her beliefs. She still believes in the Christian God, albeit a different version of the Christian God — a kinder, gentler, loving God – than that of the Westboro Church. She still reads and studies the Bible and has come to see that there are many different ways to interpret the Bible.
In telling her story, whether intentionally or not, Drain shows that the Phelps family and the Westboro Baptist Church is made up of vile, nasty, vindictive people, who, due to their doctrinal beliefs, have lost the capacity to love anyone other than their own (and even then, their love is conditioned on obedience to what the church beliefs and the edicts of the pastor).
Drain reveals that the Phelps family has a few secrets of its own, such as the fact that two of Fred Phelps’ daughters became pregnant outside of wedlock. I am sure this was especially galling to Drain, since the reason she was banished is because she desired to have a relationship with a boy who was not a member of the church. That’s right — her big sin was being a normal, heterosexual teenage girl.
And this is the crux of the story. It is the story of an American teenage girl who wanted to be like other teenage girls. She wanted to have a boyfriend. She wanted to feel loved. She had wistful thoughts about getting married some day. (The only available boys in the church to marry were grandsons of Fred Phelps.) Her parents, the Phelpses, and the Westboro Baptist Church robbed her of her youth. They used and abused her and then threw her away like a piece of trash. (To this day she has no contact with her parents.)
I wish Lauren Drain well. She deserves a good life, a life with those who will love her for who she is. I hope that someday her family will be delivered from Phelps’ cult and that her relationship with them can be restored. I can only imagine the pain she must suffer from being completely cut off from her parents and siblings.
Drain gives the impression that the Westboro Baptist Church in an aberration and that most Christian churches and people are not like the Phelpses and Westboro. Unfortunately, my extensive involvement in Evangelicalism tells me this is not the case.
Westboro uses the threat of church discipline to control its members. I know of many Calvinistic Baptist churches that do the same. When I was co-pastor of Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf, Texas, I saw church discipline routinely used to keep people in line. People who refused to obey were excommunicated. When I decided to leave the church and return to Ohio, I was excommunicated because I did not ask the church’s permission to leave. To this day, the church considers me a publican and heathen.
Drain reveals that Fred Phelps is the domineering, controlling man everyone thinks he is (as is his daughter Shirley, who rules the church with her father). As the pastor of the church, he rules the church with a rod of iron. His word is the law. Is such behavior by a pastor an aberration? Maybe in some sects, but in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church and in many other Evangelical sects, extreme pastoral authority and control is the norm.
Westboro Baptist Church is a cult. Drain refuses to say this in the book, but any cursory reading of Banished will clearly show that the Westboro Baptist Church is a cult and Fred Phelps is a cult leader. The same cult markers found in the Westboro Baptist Church can be found in countless Evangelical churches. If anything, Banished should be read by every church member in the IFB church movement. If they are able to set their cognitive dissonance aside, IFB church members should have no trouble seeing themselves in the book. As I have often said, there is little difference between many Evangelical churches and pastors on the one hand and Westboro Baptist Church and Fred Phelps on the other. The difference is one of appearance rather than substance. There is nothing in the beliefs of Fred Phelps and Westboro that can’t be found in Calvinistic churches in the IFB church movement, in the Reformed Baptist movement, the Founder’s Group in the Southern Baptist Convention, and the Sovereign Grace Baptist movement. Theologically, there is little difference between Fred Phelps and Al Martin or Al Mohler.
While I cannot give Banished a 4 star rating for the reasons mentioned above, I do think people investigating the Westboro Baptist Church or Evangelical cultism in general will find the book helpful.
The publisher graciously provided me a copy of the book to review. Manuscript Found in Accra is 190 pages long and can be read in several leisurely sittings.
This is the first Paulo Coelho book I have read. Quite frankly, until the publisher representative contacted me, I had never heard of Paulo Coelho. This is my loss, since millions of other people know who Paulo Coelho is. According to back flap of the book, Coelho has written numerous books; books such as The Alchemist, Aleph, Eleven Minutes, and The Pilgrimage. His books have been translated into 74 languages and over 140 million books have been sold.
Manuscript Found in Accra is best described as wisdom literature. Drawing on the collective wisdom of the world’s religions, Coelho tells a masterful story that forces readers to contemplate and consider their own lives, and the meaning, purpose, and direction thereof.
While the book is littered with religious and spiritual references, it is not strictly a religious book. Coelho takes readers beyond the boundaries that sectarian religions erect and encourages them to see the wisdom found not only in religious texts but also in the collective experiences that humanity shares.
The main character of Manuscript Found in Accra is the Copt. The book focuses on the Copt’s interaction with the people of Jerusalem on July 14, 1099.
Roman Catholic Crusaders have surrounded Jerusalem. Attack is imminent. Many of the residents of Jerusalem will flee before the battle, yet others will stay to fight, knowing that they will likely die. Before this historic battle takes place, the Copt asks all the people to come to the city square. He asks the leaders of the three Abrahamic religions to join him there.
The Copt is described as:
…a strange man. as an adolescent, he decided to leave his native city of Athens to go in search of money and adventure. He ended up knocking on the doors of our city, close to starvation. When he was well received, he gradually abandoned the idea of continuing his journey and resolved to stay.
He managed to find work in a shoemaker’s shop, and—just like Ibn al-Athir—he started recording everything he saw and heard for posterity. He did not seek to join any particular religion, and no one tried to persuade him otherwise. As far as he is concerned, we are not in the years 1099 or 4859, much less at the end of 492. The Copt believes only in the present moment and what he calls Moira—the unknown God, the Divine Energy, responsible for a single law, which, if ever broken, will bring along the end of the world.
The people, along with their religious leaders, gather in the city square, the very same city square where Jesus was condemned to die. The Copt says to the people:
From tomorrow, harmony will become discord. Joy will be replaced by grief. Peace will give way to a war that will last into an unimaginably distant future…
They can destroy the city, but they cannot destroy everything the city has taught us, which is why it is vital that this knowledge does not suffer the same fate as our walls, houses, and streets. But what is knowledge?…
It isn’t the absolute truth about life and death, but the things that help us to live and confront the challenges of day-to-day life. It isn’t what we learn from books, which serves only to fuel futile arguments about what happened or will happen; it is the knowledge that lives in the hearts of men and women of good will…
I am a learned man, and yet, despite having spent all these years restoring antiquities, classifying objects, recording dates, and discussing politics, I still don’t know quite what to say to you. But I will ask the Divine Energy to purify my heart. You will ask me questions, and I will answer them. This is what the teachers of ancient Greece did; their disciples would ask them questions about problems they had not yet considered, and the teachers would answer them.
Someone in the crowd asks, what shall we do with your answers?
The Copt replies:
Some will write down what I say. Others will remember my words. The important thing is that tonight you will set off for the four corners of the world, telling others what you have heard. That way, the soul of Jerusalem will be preserved. And one day, we will be able to rebuild Jerusalem, not just as a city, but as a center of knowledge and a place where peace will once again reign.
A man in the crowd says, we all know what waits us tomorrow. Wouldn’t it be better to discuss how to negotiate for peace or prepare ourselves for battle?
The Copt turns and looks at the religious leaders to see if they have anything to say, then he turns back to the crowd and says:
None of us can know what tomorrow will hold, because each day has its good and its bad moments. So, when you ask your questions, forget about the troops outside and the fear inside. Our task is not to leave a record of what happened on this date for those who will inherit the Earth; history will take care of that. Therefore, we will speak about our daily lives, about the difficulties we have had to face. That is all the future will be interested in, because I do not believe very much will change in the next thousand years.
The people proceed to ask the Copt twenty questions. Each chapter in the book details the Copt’s answer to their questions. The questions and answers deal with matters close to the heart of all of us: love, fear, loss, death, beauty, courage, friendship, and dreams. Regardless of one’s religious persuasion, Manuscript Found in Accra is a treasure-trove of wisdom. It is a book that can be read over and over, with each reading giving new insight.
My favorite chapter is one where a person preparing to die in battle the next day asks:
We were divided when what we wanted was unity. The cities that lay in path of the invaders suffered the consequences of a war they did not choose. What should the survivors tell their children?
The Copt replies:
…do not seek to be loved at any price, because Love has no price.
Your friends are not the kind to attract everyone’s gaze, who dazzle and say: “There is no one better, more generous, or more virtuous in the whole of Jerusalem.”
Your friends are the sort who do not wait for things to happen in order to decide which attitude to take; they decide on the spur of the moment, even though they know it could be risky.
They are free spirits who can change direction whenever life requires them to. They explore new paths, recount their adventures, and thus enrich both city and village.
If they once took a wrong and dangerous path, they will never come to you and say: “Don’t ever do that.”
They will merely say: “I once took a wrong and dangerous path.”
This is because they respect your freedom, just as you respect theirs.
Avoid at all costs those who are only by your side in moments of sadness to offer consoling words. What they’re actually saying to themselves is: “I am stronger. I am wiser. I would not have taken that step.”
Stay close to those who are by your side in happy times, because they do not harbor jealousy or envy in their hearts, only joy to see you happy.
Avoid those who believe they are stronger than you, because they are actually concealing their own fragility.
Stay close to those who are not afraid to be vulnerable, because they have confidence in themselves and know that, at some point in our lives, we all stumble; they do not interpret this as a sign of weakness, but of humanity.
Avoid those who talk a great deal before acting, those who will never take a step without being quite sure that it will bring them respect.
Stay close to those who, when you made a mistake, never said: “I would have done it differently.” They did not make that particular mistake and so are in no position to judge.
Avoid those who seek friends in order to maintain a certain social status or to open doors they would not otherwise be able to approach.
Stay close to those who are interested in opening only one important door: the door to your heart. They will never invade your soul without your consent or shoot a deadly arrow through that open door.
Friendship is like a river; it flows around rocks, adapts itself to valleys and mountains, occasionally turns into a pool until the hollow in the ground is full and it can continue on its way.
Just as the river never forgets that it’s goal is the sea, so friendship never forgets that its only reason for existing is to love other people…
I heartily recommend Manuscript Found in Accra. I am an atheist, and I know that some of you might find my recommendation of Paulo Coelho’s book strange. Yet I found the book affirming many of the humanistic values I hold dear. Yes, Coelho is a religious man, a practicing Catholic, but can we not all learn from people who are different from us, people who, despite our differences, hold a common humanity with us?
This is the first spiritually oriented book I have read since leaving Christianity almost 5 years ago. For a time, the wisdom-well was poisoned and I could not read books with any religious or spiritual sympathies. But now I find myself yearning for books that speak to my humanity, books that call on me to reflect on who and what I am and how I want to live my life.
The strict materialist will find little to like in Manuscript Found in Accra. But for those who dream of a better tomorrow, who still have hope and seek a world of peace, Paulo Coelho’s latest book will inspire and provoke us to be better human beings.
Anyone who reads this blog knows I am a big fan of Bart Ehrman. When I began to move away from Christianity, Ehrman’s books were extremely helpful. They forced me to confront my beliefs about the English Bible and the underlying Greek and Hebrew text. I was also forced to consider that many of the ideas I had about Christianity and its history were either complete fabrications or an admixture of truth and error.
I have stated many times that any Evangelical Christian who honestly reads Bart Ehrman’s books can no longer say, I believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. Evangelicals might be able to hang on to some form of progressive or liberal Christian belief but Ehrman’s books are an axe to the root of Evangelical Christianity.
Ehrman’s latest book, Did Jesus Exist? is 368 pages long. As he has in the past, Ehrman writes in a manner easily understood by the non-scholar. I am sure he will be faulted, as he is every time he comes out with a new book, for not having enough footnotes or endnotes, but Ehrman knows who is target audience is and he does not weigh them down with copious notes that only the scholars among us would appreciate. The bibliography does list 45 authors and 66 books, with ample representation by authors who believe Jesus existed and those who don’t. Anyone wanting to research this matter further will find plenty of material listed in the bibliography to help them with their research.
I am not a scholar, at least in the sense the word is used in the Did Jesus Exist debate. I was a Christian for 50 years. I spent 25 years pastoring Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. I have a rudimentary Bible College education. While in college I received no training in Hebrew or Greek. I was taught a narrow, truncated version of Christian church history. What knowledge I gained about Hebrew and Greek and Christian church history came from tens of thousands of hours spent in the study.
As a pastor, I was largely self-taught, and books became my education. Over time, I came to trust certain authors. This is what most non-scholars do. We decide which authors, which experts, we are going to trust. We do this all the time in virtually every sphere of life in which we are not expert. However, when it comes to the Bible, it seems everyone is an expert.
I am not a expert. I am not a novice but I am certainly not a university- and seminary-trained scholar. I am also at the place in life age-wise and health-wise where my ability to improve my academic lot is limited. I read and study as much as I can. As I do this, I again look for authors that I can trust. Dr. Bart Ehrman is one such author.
In Did Jesus Exist? Ehrman states several times that history is not a science. There is no test to prove that Jesus existed. The historian must look at the available evidence and come to a reasonable conclusion. From those conclusions, we end up with probabilities. The main question that Ehrman asks is, is it probable that Jesus existed? Based on the available evidence Ehrman says, Yes, Jesus existed.
Ehrman states in the introduction that his goal is not to convince mythicists (those who don’t believe Jesus existed) of the folly of their view. He writes :
I do not expect to convince anyone in that boat. What I do hope is to convince genuine seekers who really want to know how we know that Jesus did exist, as virtually every scholar of antiquity, of biblical studies, of classics, and the Christian origins in this country and, in fact, in the Western world agrees. Many of these scholars have no vested interest in the matter. As it turns out, I myself do not either. I am not a Christian, and I have no interest in promoting a Christian cause or a Christian agenda. I am an agnostic with atheist leanings, and my life and views of the world would be approximately the same whether or not Jesus existed. My beliefs would vary little. The answer to the question of Jesus’s historical existence will not make me more or less happy, content, hopeful, likable, rich, famous, or immortal.
But as a historian I think evidence matters. And the past matters. And for anyone to whom both evidence and the past matter, a dispassionate consideration of the case makes it quite plain: Jesus did exist. He may not have been the Jesus that your mother believes in or the Jesus of the stained-glass window or the Jesus of your least favorite televangelist or the Jesus proclaimed by the Vatican, the Southern Baptist Convention, the local mega-church, or the California Gnostic. But he did exist, and we can say a few things, with relative certainty, about him.
In any event, I need to admit that I write this book with some fear and trepidation. I know that some readers who support agnostic, atheist, or humanist causes and who typically appreciate my other writings will be vocal and vociferous in rejecting my historical claims. At the same time certain readers who have found some of my other writings dangerous or threatening will be surprised, possibly even pleased, to see that here I make common cause with them. Possibly many readers will wonder why a book is even necessary explaining that Jesus must have existed. To them I would say that every historical person, event, or phenomenon needs to be established. The historian can take nothing for granted. There are several loud voices out there, whether you tune into them or not, who are declaring that Jesus is a myth. This mythicist position is interesting historically and phenomenologically, as a part of a wider skepticism that has infiltrated parts of the thinking world and that deserves a clearheaded sociological analysis in its own right. I do not have the skills or expertise to provide that wider analysis, although I will make some brief remarks about the broad mythicist phenomenon in my conclusion. In the meantime, as a historian I can show why at least one set of skeptical claims about the past history of our civilization is almost certainly wrong, even though these claims are seeping into the popular consciousness at an alarming rate. Jesus existed, and those vocal persons who deny it do so not because they have considered the evidence with the dispassionate eye of the historian, but because they have some other agenda that this denial serves. From a dispassionate point of view, there was a Jesus of Nazareth.
Did Jesus Exist? has three parts:
Evidence for the Historical Jesus
The Mythicists’ Claims
Who Was the Historical Jesus?
In the first chapter Ehrman gives a brief history of the mythicist view and its relevant present-day authors. Later in the book he will come back to these authors and give their views more careful consideration. Ehrman looks at the mythicist claims of such men like Robert M Price, Richard Carrier, Frank Zindler, Thomas L. Thompson, Earl Doherty, George A. Wells, Acharya S, D.M. Murdock, Timothy Freke, and Peter Gandy.
In chapter two Ehrman talks about the non-Christian sources for the life of Jesus. Ehrman makes it clear that there is no hard, physical evidence for Jesus. There is no archeological evidence. There are no writings from Jesus. Does this mean the Jesus did not exist? Hardly.
This is not much of an argument against his existence, however, since there is no archaeological evidence for anyone else living in Palestine in Jesus’s day except for the very upper-crust elite aristocrats, who are occasionally mentioned in inscriptions (we have no other archaeological evidence even for any of these). In fact, we don’t have any archaeological remains for any non-aristocratic Jew of the 20s CE, when Jesus would have been an adult. And absolutely no one thinks that Jesus was an upper-class aristocrat. So why would we have archaeological evidence of his existence?
We also do not have any writings from Jesus. To many people this may seem odd, but in fact it is not odd at all. The vast majority of people in the ancient world could not write, as we will see in greater detail. There are debates about Jesus’s literacy, if of course he lived. But even if he could read, there are no indications from early sources that he could write, and there is no reference to any of his writings in any of our Gospels. So there is nothing strange about having nothing in writing from him. I should point out that we have nothing in writing from over 99.99 percent of people who lived in antiquity. That doesn’t mean, of course, that they didn’t live. It means that if we want to show that any one of them lived, we have to look for other kinds of evidence.
Ehrman spends a good bit of the book talking about the non-Christian sources for the life of Jesus. He talks about:
Roman references: Pliny the Younger, Suetonius, and Tacitus
Jewish sources: Josephus
Mythicists often claim that the passage in the writings of Josephus that makes mention of Jesus was not written by Josephus, that it was added by a Christian years later. Ehrman charts a path between the extremes of yes, Josephus wrote this and no, he didn’t by suggesting that the passage in question had been embellished.
The big question is whether a Christian scribe (or scribes) simply added a few choice Christian additions to the passage or whether the entire thing was produced by a Christian and inserted in an appropriate place in Josephus’s antiquities.
The majority of scholars of early Judaism, and experts on Josephus, think that it was the former–that one or more Christian scribes “touched up” the passage a bit. If one takes out the obviously Christian comments, the passage may have been rather innocuous, reading something like this:
At this time there appeared Jesus, a wise man. He was a doer of startling deeds, a teacher of people who receive the truth with pleasure. And he gained a following both among many Jews and among many of Greek origin. When Pilate, because of an accusation made by the leading men among us, condemned him to the cross, those who had loved him previously did not cease to do so. And up until this very day the tribe of Christians, named after him, has not died out.
If this is the original form of the passage, then Josephus had some solid historical information about Jesus’s life: Jesus was known for his wisdom and teaching; he was thought to have done remarkable deeds; he had numerous followers; he was condemned to be crucified by Pontius Pilate because of Jewish accusations brought against him; and he continued to have followers among the Christians after his death.
As can be expected, Ehrman spends considerable space detailing why the gospels must be considered as historical sources. Ehrman does a good job defending the view that that gospels are a historical source and certainly are appropriate for use in determining whether or not Jesus existed. Mythicists like to reduce the gospels down to one gospel, Mark, and Ehrman makes short work of the folly of such an argument.
Ehrman concludes his chapter on The Gospels as Historical Sources with this:
The evidence I offer in this chapter is not all there is. It is simply one part of the evidence. But it is easy to see why even on its own it has proved to be so convincing to almost every scholar who ever thought about the issue. We are not dealing with just one gospel that reports what Jesus said and did from some time near the end of the first century. We have a number of surviving gospels—I name seven—that are either completely independent of one another or independent in a large number of their traditions. These all attest to the existence of Jesus. Moreover, these independent witnesses corroborate many of the same basic sets of data—for example, that Jesus not only lived but that he was a Jewish teacher who was crucified by the Romans at the instigation of Jewish authorities in Jerusalem. Even more important, these independent witnesses are based on a relatively large number of written predecessors, gospels that no longer survive but that almost certainly once existed. Some of these earlier written texts have been shown beyond reasonable doubt to date back at least to the 50s of the Common Era. They derive from locations around the Mediterranean and again are independent of one another. If historians prefer lots of witnesses that corroborate one another’s claims without showing evidence of collaboration, we have that in relative abundance in the written sources that attest to the existence of the historical Jesus.
But most significant of all, each of these numerous gospel texts is based on oral traditions that had been in circulation for years among communities of Christians in different parts of the world, all of them attesting to the existence of Jesus. And some of these traditions must have originated in Aramaic-speaking communities of Palestine, probably in the 30s CE, within several years at least of the traditional date of the death of Jesus. The vast network of these traditions, numerically significant, widely dispersed, and largely independent of one another, make it almost certain that whatever one wants to say about Jesus, at the very least one must say that he existed. Moreover, as we will now see, there is yet more evidence.
In chapter four Ehrman talks about the evidence for Jesus from later sources outside the gospels. He briefly talks about Josephus and Tacitus but he spends the bulk of this chapter giving evidence for Jesus’s existence from Christian sources like:
Ignatius of Antioch
The book of Acts
The writings of Paul
As a result of our investigation so far, it should be clear that historians do not need to rely on only one source (say, the gospel of Mark) for knowing whether or not the historical Jesus existed. He is attested clearly by Paul, independently of the Gospels, and in many other sources as well: in the speeches in Acts, which contain material that predates Paul’s letters, and later in Hebrews, 1st and 2nd Peter, Jude, Revelation, Papias, Ignatius, and 1 Clement. These are ten witnesses that can be added to our seven independent Gospels (either entirely or partially independent), giving us a great variety of sources that broadly corroborate many of the reports about Jesus without evidence of collaboration. And this is not counting all of the oral traditions that were in circulation even before the surviving written accounts. Moreover, information about Jesus known to Paul appears to go back to the early 30s of the Common Era, as arguably does some of the material in the book of Acts….
In chapter five Ehrman talks about two key data for the historicity of Jesus:
Paul’s association with Simon Peter and Jesus’s brother James.
The crucifixion of Jesus.
Paul indicates that he received some of these traditions from those who came before him, and it is relatively easy to determine when. Paul claims to have visited with Jesus’s closest disciple, Peter, and with his brother James three years after his conversion, that is around 35—36 CE. Much of what Paul has to say about Jesus, therefore, stems from the same early layer of tradition that we can trace, completely independently, in the Gospels.
Even more impressive than what Paul says about Jesus is whom he knew. Paul was personally acquainted, as I’ve pointed out,with Peter and James. Peter was Jesus’s closest confidant throughout his public ministry, and James was his actual brother. Paul knew them for decades, starting in the mid 30s CE. It is hard to imagine how Jesus could have been made up. Paul knew his best friend and his brother.
Paul also knew that Jesus was crucified. Before the Christian movement, there were no Jews who thought the Messiah was going to suffer. Quite the contrary. The crucified Jesus was not invented, therefore, to provide some kind of mystical fulfillment of Jewish expectation. The single greatest obstacle Christians had when trying to convert Jews was precisely their claim that Jesus had been executed. They would not have made that up. They had to deal with that and devise a special, previously unheard of theology to account for it. And so what they invented was not a person named Jesus but rather the idea of a suffering Messiah. That invention has become so much a part of the standard lingo that Christians today assume it was all part of the original plan of God as mapped out in the Old Testament. But in fact the idea of a suffering Messiah cannot be found there. It had to be created. And the reason it had to be created is that Jesus—the one Christians consider to be the Messiah—was known by everyone everywhere to have been crucified. He couldn’t be killed if he didn’t live.
In chapters six and seven, spanning almost a hundred pages, Ehrman talks about, and discredits, the claims of those (mythicists) who say Jesus did not exist. He returns to the writings of the mythicists I mentioned earlier.
What claims do mythicists make? Ehrman gives four claims that mythicists make:
Claim 1: The Gospels are Highly Problematic as Historical Sources.
We do not have the original texts of the gospels
We do not know the authors of the gospels
The gospels are filled with discrepancies and contradictions
The gospels contain non-historical materials
The stories in the gospels are filled with legendary material
Claim 2: Nazareth Did Not Exist.
Claim 3: The Gospels are Interpretive Paraphrases of the Old Testament.
Claim 4: The Nonhistorical “Jesus” is based on Stories About Pagan Divine Men.
In chapter seven Ehrman homes in on mythicist claims that Jesus was a mythical being. He asks and answers several questions:
Did the earliest Christians invent Jesus as a Dying-Rising God, based on Pagan myths?
Was Jesus invented as a personification of Jewish Wisdom?
Was Jesus an unknown Jew who lived in obscurity more than a century before Paul?
Was Jesus crucified in the spiritual realm rather than on earth?
Did Mark, our first Gospel, invent the idea of a historical person, Jesus?
Ehrman’s answer to each of these questions is NO!
The final part of the book asks the question, Who was the historical Jesus? If Jesus existed who was he?
Ehrman makes clear that we must differentiate between the historical Jesus and the Jesus who Christians claim was born of a virgin, worked miracles and rose again from the dead. Before the supernatural claims can be addressed we must first determine if Jesus existed. We can believe Jesus existed without believing Jesus was born of a virgin, worked miracles, and rose again from the dead. The former is a matter history can decide. The latter is a matter of theology, of faith.
According to Ehrman, who was Jesus? After reading the book, I would summarize Ehrman’s view like this:
Jesus was born in relative obscurity in the town of Nazareth. His parents were poor and his father was a common laborer. As an adult Jesus became a disciple of John the Baptist, and over time became an Jewish apocalyptic prophet. He was crucified by the authority of Pontius Pilate.
In the final part of the book Ehrman has much to say about the apocalyptic proclamations of Jesus and his apocalyptic activities. He makes a compelling case for Jesus, the apocalyptic prophet. I plan to write several posts in the future about several interesting points Ehrman makes about Jesus and the works he did during his three years of public ministry.
I have no doubt that the diehard mythicists who frequent this website will not be convinced by Bart Ehrman’s, Did Jesus Exist? I can only hope they will read the book and it will force them to add a bit of nuance and temper to their claims. I also hope their wilder claims will die the swift death they deserve.
For the rest of my readers I hope the book will be instructive and will provide ammunition when debating with Evangelical Christians about the inerrant, inspired, infallible Word of God.
For Christian readers of this blog (yes, I know you are out there) the book is likely to be offensive, instructive, or affirming depending on how you open you are and how you view the Bible itself. I can only hope this book will be widely read in Christian circles.
As our family gathered together to watch Ohio State go down in flames to Kansas last night, I told them that I thought Did Jesus Exist? was Bart Ehrman’s best book (and I have all of them). While Ehrman spends a good bit of time dealing with mythicist claims he also spends a lot of time detailing how we should read the Bible and judge its historical reliability. I daresay if Evangelical Christians are willing to read the book with an open mind they will never view the Bible or Jesus the same again.
Who is Dr. Bart Ehrman?
Bart D. Ehrman is the author of more than twenty books, including the New York Times bestselling Misquoting Jesus, God’s Problem, Jesus, Interrupted, and Forged. Ehrman is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and is a leading authority on the Bible and the life of Jesus. He has been featured on a variety of top media outlets.
The publisher Vanguard Press sent me a review copy of Vincent Bugliosi’s latest book, Divinity of Doubt, The God Question. Divinity of Doubt is 272 pages long (338 pages with chapter notes and index) and is Bugliosi’s attempt to establish agnosticism as the only valid choice in the God debate. Bugliosi neatly divides views about God into three categories: organized religion, agnosticism, and atheism.
Bugliosi spends significant time — in fact the entire book save 3 chapters — dismantling and shredding Christianity. He makes it clear that he does not believe the Christian God exists. He dismisses the rest of the major religions of the world in a chapter titled “Hey, Look at Us. We are Just as Silly as They Are.” Bugliosi makes it known that the world would be far better off if organized religion died a quick death.
Bugliosi’s critique of Christianity is standard atheistic fare. Long time atheists and agnostics will bore quickly when reading Divinity of Doubt. I found myself saying yeah, yeah, yeah, I agree. Ok, next. That said, Bugliosi’s book is a great primer on the theological and textual issues the Christian church faces. This would be a great book for someone who is considering leaving Christianity.
Bugliosi is rightly critical of those who believe in certainty but he often appeals to theological certainty when he writes about what bible scholars believe concerning this or that theological or historical issue. He often makes it sound as if bible scholars are unified when it comes to the textual and historical problems of the Christian bible, when, in fact, unity is a word rarely used to describe bible scholarship. Proof? Consult the true God of this world — Google — and you will quickly discover that practically every aspect of the Christian religion is endlessly debated. Christians can’t even agree on basic things such as God, communion, baptism, or how a person becomes a Christian.
I was astounded that Bugliosi did not mention Bart Ehrman even once. (I did not read the chapter notes so there is a small possibility Ehrman makes an honorary appearance there.) Ehrman is clearly the most popular and most widely read theologian of the 21st century. His books are a devastating critique of Christianity and Bugliosi’s failure to mention Ehrman’s books is troubling. (Not that Ehrman would have necessarily added anything to the book. Bugliosi comes to many of the same conclusions as Ehrman.) In passing I should note that Bugliosi incorrectly states that William Lane Craig is a Catholic apologist. Craig is actually an Evangelical Christian apologist.
Bugliosi spends several chapters on the subject of evolution, creationism, and intelligent design. He admits he is not a scientist but this does not keep him from diving right in anyway. Bugliosi writes:
But apart from science, I have problems with the Big Bang theory. For one thing, I simply cannot even begin to imagine how at some tiny point in time and space, some microorganism, or what have you, self exploded and created the universe, though I obviously am in no position to challenge this theory…But I do know that whatever they are, they are something, and that is the big problem. It would seem that no one can actually believe that the Big Bang exploded out of nothing, completely empty space, which would be an impossibility. It had to have exploded out of something. And no matter how small or subatomic that something is, the question is who put that something there? If it wasn’t the creator, and how did it come into existence? Remember, nothing can create itself because if it did, it would proceed itself, an impossibility.
Unlike Bugliosi, I confess not only am I quite deficient when it comes to matters of science, I also have no intentions of exposing my ignorance to those who are experts in science. I will leave it to my readers who are well-schooled in science to deal with Bugliosi’s claims. I will stick to the Bible and theology.
In a chapter titled “Atheism and Its Current Leading Prolocutors,” Bugliosi deals with the subject of atheism. Bugliosi focuses only on the writings of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens. For some unexplainable reason Bugliosi assumes that if he reads the books written by the Big Three of the Atheist movement (he ignores Daniel Dennett) he has adequately surveyed the necessary material to make a proper judgment about atheism. As a result, Bugliosi paints a truncated, incomplete picture of atheism. His book would carry far more weight with atheists IF he had broadened his horizons and referenced books written by atheists, agnostics, humanists, and skeptics who offer a different viewpoint from those of Harris/Hitchens/Dawkins.
Bugliosi hates the certainty he sees in the writings of Harris/Dawkins/Hitchens. Bugliosi wrongly assumes that these three authors are the face of atheism and that their beliefs are the beliefs of all atheists. Bugliosi rightly contends that no one can know for certain whether or not there is a God yet he discounts atheists who say just that. Dawkins admits that a person cannot, with certainty, know whether or not a God exists. Dawkins states “God almost certainly does not exist” and Bugliosi takes this to be a disingenuous statement. Why?
Atheism is all about probabilities. Does God exist? I don’t know. Is it probable God exists? No. Is it likely God exists? No. Does the Christian God, as taught in the Bible, exist? No. Rare is the atheist who says with certainty that no God exists. In fact Bugliosi proves in his book that he is every bit as much an atheist as most of the atheists I know. Bugliosi would have been better informed about atheism if he had, at a bare minimum, read the WIKI on atheism.
In the future, I hope Bugliosi will broaden his horizons when it comes to atheism. I have profited greatly from the books of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens. That said, there are many other authors, such as Michael Shermer, Richard Carrier, Hector Avalos, David Eller, S.T. Joshi, A.C. Grayling, Paul Kurtz, Bart Ehrman, and Scott Aiken/Robert Talisse, all of whom have written significant books about atheism and humanism that I have found quite helpful; books, it seems, that Bugliosi paid no attention to. Bugliosi also fails to mention the books by John Loftus — Why I Became an Atheist and The Christian Delusion — two books which are very helpful in laying the foundation of modern atheism.
If you are a confirmed atheist or agnostic, Divinity of Doubt will not plow any new ground for you, and it certainly does a poor job of surveying the current popular atheist scene. The book is bombastic at times and its biggest defect is how Vincent Bugliosi portrays himself. To-wit:
I seem to naturally—and not as a result, I can assure you , of any special intelligence at all—see what’s in front of me completely uninfluenced by the trappings of reputation, hoopla, conventional wisdom, and so on, put on it by others.
I suspect some readers of Divinity of Doubt will be unable to get beyond Bugliosi’s naïve view of himself. As I read what Bugliosi said about himself I found myself wanting to toss the book in the corner where I store all the books I have read by authors filled with self-importance. (Granted my sensitivity to this stems from a lifetime in a religious movement dominated by arrogant, self-important preachers.) I didn’t toss the book, and I am glad I didn’t. I had to remind myself that sometimes I have to get beyond the messenger and listen to the message. Forget Bugliosi’s character flaws; is what he preaches the truth? The answer is Yes, especially when dealing with Christianity.
I heartily recommend Divinity of Doubt, especially for people who considering leaving the Christian faith. The book will be a help to Christians who are questioning the tenets of the Christian faith. Divinity of Doubt answers many of the questions pastors hope their members never ask.
I close this review with Bugliosi’s own words concerning religion:
I can say with relative confidence (because what I’m saying, at least it would seem, has to be true) that there is only one necessary religion that has any merit to the people who inhabit this earth, and that’s the Golden Rule: “Do unto others what you would want them to do unto you” (from the Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount [Matthew 7:12]). To treat others as you would want them to treat you is the highest, most noble form of human behavior and the basis of all morality. No matter what some papal encyclical says; no matter what some bishops’ conference says; no matter how many sacraments of the Catholic church there are, or chapters and verses in the bible, or thick and complex books by theologians, or Sunday school classes and sermons by pastors; no matter how many heated arguments there are about God, Jesus, and religion; no matter how many pilgrimages there are to Mecca, Jerusalem, and other holy places; no matter how many thousands of hours Jewish scholars struggle over the meaning of the Torah; no matter how many multimillion-dollar churches and synagogues and grand cathedrals to Christ are constructed, nothing can ever change that simple reality…..
If we must have religion, the seminal test as to the value and merit of any religion worth its salt has to be not what you believe, but what you do—that is, how you treat your fellow man. Yet in the thousands upon thousands of books, and billions upon billions of words that have been written, particularly about Christianity and the bible, what percentage of these books do you think are devoted to the only thing that counts—the Golden Rule?
Janet Heimlich’s book Breaking Their Will, Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment, is a cogent investigation into religious child abuse. Breaking Their Will covers a broad array of religious sects, and Heimlich does a good job at documenting the child abuse within these sects.
While Heimlich states several times that she is not suggesting that all religions are bad or that all religions lead to religious child abuse, she comes pretty close to proving otherwise. I wonder if she had to say not all religions are bad to avoid being labeled a closed-minded hater of all religions; but regardless of her reason for playing nice with religion, she does a more than adequate job proving that religious child abuse is widespread.
Heimlich writes that religious child maltreatment manifests itself in many ways, such as:
Justifying abusive physical punishment with religious texts or doctrine
Having children engage in dangerous religious rituals
Taking advantage of religious authority to abuse children and procure their silence
Failing to provide children needed medical care, owing to a belief in divine intervention
Terrifying children with religious concepts, such as an angry and punitive god, eternal damnation, or possession by the devil or by demons
Making children feel guilty and shameful by telling them they are sinful
Neglecting children’s safety by allowing them to spend time with religious authorities without scrutinizing the authorities’ backgrounds
Failing to acknowledge or report child abuse or neglect in order to protect the image of a religion or a religious group
Breaking Their Will is divided into four parts:
The pain of chastisement—religious child physical abuse
Harm without hitting—religious child emotional abuse
Violating a trust—religious child sexual abuse
Sin of denial—religious child medical neglect
Heimlich’s book is well documented and chock-full of real life stories of boys and girls who were abused. In my most recent battle with people within the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement I noticed that the testimonies of people who were abused are routinely dismissed. In most every case the abuse deniers know of people who were not abused while in the same setting as those who were abused, or they know the accused abusers personally, so they dismiss abuse claims as lies or attempts to attack and destroy the IFB movement. I subscribe to the theory that where there is smoke there is fire and the sheer number of people claiming to have been abused makes it highly in unlikely that they are all lying.
At times Breaking Their Will made me uncomfortable. The book reminded me of what I once was. It is hard to admit that my sincere literal interpretation of the Bible led me to preach and teach things that are clearly abusive. I routinely recommended child rearing books by John R. Rice, Jack Hyles, James Dobson, and Richard Fugate. While I cannot undo the past, I can advocate for and demand that religious child abuse be taken seriously.
Heimlich suggests that clergy be required to report child abuse and neglect. Here in Ohio, such a requirement is already law. However, many pastors do not consider beating a child with a rod or a belt to be abuse. The Bible teaches (requires) it and they hold to the philosophy that their parents disciplined them using corporal punishment and look how they turned out. Until there is a federal law making striking a child a crime, physical child abuse in the name of God will continue.
I observed and participated in disciplinary methods that I would today clearly consider abuse. Back then I called it Biblical discipline; Today I call it child abuse. Over the course of 25 years I reported abuse to Family Services three times. All of the reports were made after I observed or heard about abuse (all of the reports came from our bus ministry). In retrospect, I now know that what I called good bible-based, God-honoring discipline was actually religious child abuse.
Heimlich advocates extending or eliminating the statutes of limitations on sexual child abuse. She will get no argument from me. (though I do have some concern about false claims of sexual abuse being used to get back at a parent, pastor, teacher, etc.). I think it is scandalous that the Roman Catholic Church in many states hides behind statutes of limitations, refusing to even acknowledge that abuse “might” have occurred.
Heimlich encourages parents to examine the norms and behaviors of the faith-based communities of which they are a part:
Is my faith community theologically exclusive? That is, do religious leaders and other worshippers claim to be the only people who “know” religious truth?
Does my community fear or hold in contempt those who are not part of our faith?
Do I feel at ease asking questions, voicing complaints, or expressing feelings of religious doubt to those in authority or others?
Do I raise my child according to strict guidelines or beliefs held by my faith community?
Would I be rebuked or treated closely if I did not follow those norms, including enforcing strict discipline in the home and using physical punishment in ways that make me feel uneasy?
Do my faith leaders tell us God wants us to spank our kids?
Are children in my place of worship treated respectfully, even when they misbehave, or are they made to feel shamefully?
If parents or children need help in managing their lives, does my place of worship offer suggestions for mental health services, or do authorities simply tell them to talk to a member of the clergy, pray harder, or undergo an exorcism?
If I were to find out that my child was abused by a member of my faith community, or if I had strong suspicions that such abuse had taken place, would I feel comfortable reporting that abuse to outside authorities, or would I feel obligated to first contact faith leaders and follow their instruction?
If I did speak to faith leaders first, would they likely advise me to report the allegations to law enforcement or child protective services, or to keep the problem within the church?
How much power does my religious leader hold?
Do worshipers believe he or she has some sort of God hotline and thus can tell us how God wants us to live our lives?
Does a religious leader try to scare people faith?
For those of raised in IFB churches and Evangelical churches this list pretty well describes most of the churches of which we have been a part. In other words, tens of millions of Americans attend churches that have dangerous abusive tendencies. How can this be? Simple. When a religious text becomes the authority over every aspect of life, and its teachings implicitly obeyed, abuse is sure to follow (and we see the same thing in the Muslim faith and Orthodox Judaism).
Heimlich raises one controversial point towards the end of the book when she deals with female and male circumcision. Most everyone would agree that female circumcision (the cutting of the clitoris) is morally wrong and should be criminally prosecuted. But what about male circumcision? Heimlich makes a compelling case that male circumcision is just as barbaric and immoral as female circumcision. Fortunately, male circumcision is in decline with barely 55% of newborns being circumcised (high of 80% in the 1970s).
I heartily recommend Janet Heimlich’s new book Breaking Their Will. If you want to study the connection between religion and child abuse this should be the first book you read. Religious child abuse can be stopped IF parents and religious leaders are willing to tackle the subject head-on. Thoughtful parents need to leave the belt in their pants and relegate the rod to the trash bin of archaic, unenlightened tools of discipline. As a parent and a grandfather I have an obligation to encourage and gently instruct my children in matters of child discipline and the propriety of religion in the lives of their children (my grandchildren). Our children know my wife and I oppose any form of hitting children and they know that we do not support children being indoctrinated in a religious faith before they are mature enough to make a decision on their own.
I hope Breaking Their Will is widely read. May it spur a mass exodus out of churches that promote and teach religious child abuse. May it also make government authorities aware of the extent of abuse that goes on in faith communities.
Who is Janet Heimlich?
A freelance reporter for National Public Radio, Janet Heimlich won nine journalism awards, including the prestigious Katie, given by the Press Club of Dallas; the Houston Press Club’s Radio Journalist of the Year Award; and the Texas Bar Association’s Gavel Award. In addition to her radio work, Ms. Heimlich has written nonfiction articles for such publications as Texas Monthly, the Austin American-Statesman, the Texas Observer, Tribeza, and Edible Austin.
Breaking Their Will is published by Prometheus Books. The book is 326 pages long, with an additional 71 pages of endnotes and bibliography. You can buy the book here.
The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating is a delightful tale of Elisabeth Tova Bailey’s interaction with a wild snail. Bailey, afflicted with an illness that keeps her bedfast most of the time, interweaves her story of affliction with that of a wild gastropod. In 189 pages, Bailey succeeds in telling readers everything they will ever need to know about snails. After reading the book I felt as if I had earned an advanced degree in snailology.
One early spring day, a friend of Bailey’s spotted a snail in the woods and decided to take it back to Bailey so she could see it. The friend dug up a few violets, put them in a pot, and delivered it and snail to Bailey, thinking that her invalid friend would enjoy the snail’s company. Bailey thought, at the time:
Why, I wondered, would I enjoy a snail? What on earth would I do with it? I couldn’t get out of bed to return it to the woods. It was not of much interest, and if it were alive, the responsibility—especially for a snail, something so uncalled for—was overwhelming.
Thus begins the relationship of Elisabeth Tova Bailey with a lowly common forest snail. Over the course of a year Bailey details her interaction with the snail. She pays close attention to its habits and what the snail likes to eat. Bailey also details when and how the snail sleeps and how it reproduces (quickly and in great numbers).
If this book was just a science text about snails, I suspect that many readers might bore of all the snail minutia dispensed by Bailey. Personally, I loved the precise details. Such minutia is just the kind of knowledge needed to impress people at a social gathering. Things such as, do you know that snails have teeth? Do you know that snails are hermaphrodites?
I found myself drawn into Bailey’s story, not so much because of the subject, a snail, but because of Bailey’s debilitating illness.
There is a certain depth of illness that is piercing in its isolation; the only rule of existence is uncertainty, and the only movement is the passage of time. One can not bear to live through another loss of function, and sometimes friends and family can not bear to watch. An unspoken, unbridgeable divide may widen. Even if you are still who you were, you cannot actually fully be who you are. Sometimes the people you know well withdraw, and then even the person you know as yourself begins to change.
There were times when I wished that my viral invader had claimed me completely. How much better to live an exuberant life and then leave as one exits a party, simply opening a door and stepping out. Instead, the virus took me to the edge of life and then left me trapped in its pernicious shadow, with symptoms that, barely tolerable one day, become too severe the next, and with the unjustness of unexpected relapses, that, overnight, erased years of gradual improvement.
I wept as I read this passage. It resonated deeply with me; as a fellow pilgrim on the road of debility I understood the cry of Bailey’s being. The remembrance of what once was. The lament over what has been lost. Sometimes, it is a simple thing, like a snail, that comes along to give us a bit of purpose and meaning; to remind us that life is still worth living.
Jeri Massi recently asked me if I would do a write-up for her latest book, TheBig Book of Bad Baptist Preachers. I am delighted to do so. While Jeri and I are philosophically as far apart as two people can possibly be, we both share a desire to expose sexual predators and child abusers who just so happen to be Baptist preachers. Thanks to an ecclesiology that turns pastors into rulers, potentates, and kings, many abusive Southern Baptist and Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preachers have ready access to potential victims. Accountable only to themselves, these predator pastors molest, rape, and assault with impunity. Church members are conditioned to not question the man of God’s behavior, out of fear of God’s judgment if they do.
Often, acts of abuse are quietly swept under the rug. The offending pastors, under no ecclesiastical authority but their own, leave, move down the road to a new church, and start over. In many instances, the new church is not aware of past misconduct. This is especially true when the predator pastor starts a new church. Since there is no central database for checking whether a pastor has committed sexual crimes or been fired for alleged misconduct, church members are often unaware of their pastor’s checkered past. And sometimes they know, but like sheep to the slaughter, they consider their pastor’s past “sins” as “under the blood of Jesus” and forgiven. (please see Blood Washing the Past) Sadly, this allows these pastors to continue to abuse. In some cases, like with the late Bob Gray, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church, Jacksonville, Florida and David Hyles, the son of Jack Hyles, the abuse goes on for decades, all because those who knew what was going on said nothing.
The Big Book of Bad Baptist Preachers is a compendium of 100 pastors who were accused and/or convicted of sexual misconduct. Each pastor’s crimes are listed, along the outcome, if any, with regard to their predatory behavior. If you are looking for a summary of the notable sex scandals that have rocked the Southern Baptist Convention and IFB church movement over the past two decades, TheBig Book of Bad Baptist Preachers is the book for you.
Jeri plans to update the book next year. One thing is for certain: the abuse will continue until churches and denominations decide to aggressively expose abusive pastors and make sure they can never preach again. And this means Jeri will have more sordid stories to add to The Big Book of Bad Baptist Preachers.
The Big Book of Bad Baptist Preachers is available at Amazon.com
I am always on the lookout for church signs or public advertisements of Evangelical/Fundamentalist/Conservative Roman Catholic belief. What follows are a few photographs I shot while traversing the back roads of Paulding, Defiance, and Hancock County. Enjoy!
This person is a PROUD American Christian, as is Mickey and Minnie Mouse.
Photograph of Ottawa Missionary Church sign in Ottawa, Ohio. I have previously posted a photo of this church’s sign.
Photograph of Melrose United Methodist Church sign in Melrose, Ohio. My first response to the message, improvement begins with I? So does intercourse and intoxication.
Jesus is the reason for WHICH season? It’s against the rules of engagement for the War Against Christmas® to put up such a sign before Thanksgiving!
Sign in front of rural Hispanic church. It is safe to assume that this message refers to the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage.
Laura Hardman, wife of Fundamentalist Baptist Evangelist Don Hardman, has written a biography about her husband titled The Preacher: The Life and Times of Donald A. Hardman. The self published book is 201 pages long. In 2010, Laura published an autobiography titled Laura’s Light. The book was published in 2010. You can read my review of the book here.
Like Laura’s Light, The Preacher reads quite a bit like the Bible. Don Hardman’s story is one of bondage to sin and deliverance from that sin through the blood of Jesus Christ. Also, like the Bible, it is littered with fictions and omissions. I will illustrate some of these fictions and omissions later.
While the book is meant to be a biography of Don Hardman’s life, it is sparse on details, except for those details that paint Don in a favorable light. In the preface, Laura states:
I will endeavor to write about a man whom I watched God transform into literally another person over the last thirty-seven years. It is my desire not to glorify or make much of what he did when he was lost, but make much of his new life in Christ.
In other words, the past is the past, it is under the blood, praise Jesus! Time to move on. The greater objective, according to Laura, is for some “sinner or saint” to “read this biography and realize there is hope for a victorious life, not only when we get to heaven, but also here as we walk in this world.” Laura wants readers to know that they too can be just like Don and Laura Hardman and achieve the victorious Christian life.
The book has eight chapters:
A Struggle Through Childhood
No Purpose for Life
Time for Change
The Call of God
Just a Servant of the Lord
A Street Preacher
The Chance of a Lifetime
The Life of Evangelism
These eight chapters take up 142 pages. The other 70 pages are what Laura calls a “Summary and Sketches of What the Preacher Said.” While Laura had uncounted recordings of Don’s sermons that she could have transcribed, she instead decided to summarize 30 of his sermons. While Laura says the reason for doing this is because “the Lord laid on my heart that giving a short essay and sharing how the people reacted might be more edifying”, I suspect the real reason for not transcribing Don’s sermons is because he often preached for 60 to 90 minutes. Over the years, Don lost meetings because he refused to shorten the length of his sermons.
Chapter one details Don’s birth in Canton, Ohio in 1950, his battle with polio, and a bit about his parents, brother, and grandparents. The chapter ends with Don graduating from high school, a rebellious young man who frequently skipped school, hung out at pool halls, smoked, drank beer, and rarely thought about God. According to Laura, Don graduated in May of 1968 “with a diploma in hand and no purpose in life.”
What’s interesting is that Laura makes no mention of the fact that Don married a 13-year-old girl by the name of Cheryl, one month before he graduated from high school. At the time of their marriage, Cheryl was four months pregnant and both Don and her were wards of the court. While I can certainly understand why Laura might not want to mention this, wouldn’t this juicy tidbit enhance Don’s sinner to saint story?
Evangelist Don Hardman, Somerset Baptist Church, Mt Perry, Ohio, Late 1980’s
In chapter two, Laura skips Don’s marriage to Cheryl, the birth of their two children Joe and Tangi, and their foster daughter Shelly. Again, if what I am being told is correct, there are plenty of stories that Laura could have shared from this period that would have enhanced Don’s sinner creds. Outside of mentioning Don’s drinking habit, nothing more is said about Don’s life until May of 1977. During this nine year period, Don was married to Cheryl. An uninformed reader would assume that Laura is Don’s first wife and that Joe and Tangi are her biological children. In my review of Laura’s first book, I wrote:
Two children came out of Don’s first marriage. Laura claims the children as her own, a claim I suspect the biological mother finds quite offensive.(a woman I have corresponded with over the years) While Hardman does say Don had two children, she never calls herself their step-mother. In her mind, when Jesus came into their life EVERYTHING became brand-new and that included the children having a new mother.
In May of 1977, Don, Laura, and their two children moved to Findlay, Ohio so Don could begin working for Ashland Oil. According to Laura:
In June of 1977, things seemed to be going great for us as a family. We moved into a government house on 1143 Concord Court, Findlay, Ohio. Our neighborhood was made up drunks, unmarried couples living together, and a slew of hoodlum kids. Needless to say, we added to their list of hoodlums. Little did we know that this wicked little neighborhood would become a mission field in the months to come.
Laura may have forgotten that I lived in Findlay in the 1970’s, grades eight through eleven. I am quite familiar with the neighborhood the Hardman’s lived in. The house in question is a single family dwelling. At the time the Hardman’s moved into the house it was around 20 years old. I seriously doubt that the house was government housing. It is possible that it was Section 8 housing, but this would mean that the Hardman’s were either on welfare or quite poor. Having already stated that Don had a job at Ashland Oil, which was a good paying job in the 1970’s, it is unlikely that the Hardman’s were poor or on welfare. (put 1143 Concord Court into Google Earth or Google Map and take a street view look of the house and neighborhood)
As far as the Concord Court neighborhood is concerned, I seriously doubt the neighborhood was as Laura describes it. While my memory is certainly not what it once was, I do remember that the Concord Court area was a working class neighborhood of moderately price, small homes, not unlike the neighborhood on National Court that my parents, siblings, and I lived in the 1970’s.
If my memory is correct, what are we to make of Laura’s description of the neighborhood? The easy answer would be that she is lying and that certainly might be the case. However, I am more inclined to believe that this story, like much of The Preacher’s Life, is like a testimony given during Sunday night church. Over the years, I heard hundreds of testimonies, often from people who told the same story over and over. I found that, over time, the stories become more exciting. A story that started out with a person being a drug user years later became the story of a person selling heroin for the mob. As we age, we tend to change, reformulate, correct, and expand the narrative of our life. The challenge for any reader is to be able to pick the facts out of the bullshit.
Chapter three details Don and Laura’s salvation experience. On June 20, 1977, Paul Reimer, pastor of First Baptist Church and church deacon Mike Roberts visited the Hardman home and shared the gospel with Don and Laura. After Reimer had shared the gospel with them and Roberts gave a personal testimony:
Don was the first to take a step forward, and prayed to God for forgiveness. Because we did not know how to pray, they led us in a prayer. Our hearts had been smitten and conviction brought tears to our eyes. We understood for the first time in our lives what Jesus had suffered for us on the cross that we might have life. Our lives were heavily burdened down with guilt and shame, and the chains of sin kept us shackled to the old life. Now we are given the choice of Freedom in Christ or Bondage withe the devil. It’s doesn’t seem like much of a choice even though many choose bondage with the devil.
Shortly after Don cried out to God, I also gave my life to God. We literally gave our lives to Christ!
The next Sunday, the Hardman’s walked the aisle at First Baptist Church and made their profession of faith public. Several weeks later, they were baptized and not long afterward they stopped smoking and drinking beer. Laura writes:
It took about four months of battling our flesh, but God did give us the victory. At the beginning, we only went to church on Sundays, but realized how important that midweek service was in our growth. Not only did I watch a thrice-Holy God changing my life, but also transforming my husband into another man, from a man whose mouth had a cuss word coming out every other word, to one thanking and praising God.
These excerpts are typical of testimonies of those saved in an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church. Years ago, an Amish-Mennonite neighbor confided in me that he was troubled because he didn’t have a sin to salvation story like Baptists have. Raised in the church, a practicing Amish-Mennonite, he grew into salvation. He wanted to know if his salvation was defective because he didn’t have any bad sinner stories to tell. His question illustrated the fact that IFB churches and preachers play up the bad sinner part of their testimony. Everyone wants to be viewed as the baddest sinner in town, a sinner whom God miraculously delivered. As I mentioned previously, most of these testimonies are a mixture of lie, half-truth, fabrication, and fact.
The Hardman’s were saved in era when the IFB church and Evangelicalism made much of bad sinner testimonies. While these testimonies were meant to give God all the glory, what they really did was make much of the sinner and their debauched life before Jesus. Who wants to hear the testimony of the aforementioned Amish-Mennonite man when they can hear the testimony of Mike Warnke, Chuck Colson, Pat Boone, Joanna Michaelsen, and Eldridge Cleaver?
Nine months or so later, in the spring of 1978, “God spoke to his (Don’s) heart about full-time service.” According to Laura, a short time later, God gave Don his life verse, II Timothy 4:5:
But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.
Laura writes “of course, he never understood what that meant until later on.” Don told their church family that God had called him to preach. Pastor Fred Crown, also a pastor at First Baptist Church,came and talked to Don about his call to preach. Laura writes:
Pastor Crown looked him dead in the eyes and said “So you feel God has called you to preach” and Don said, “Yes Sir.” He (Crown) said, “Then you need to consider not stealing from Him.” Of course, he was dealing with tithes and offerings. Don told him we could not see how we could pay our bills and tithe our income. The wisdom from this preacher never ceases to amaze me. He told us to try tithing for a month, and he would take care of every unpaid bill himself. Needless to say, we never had an unpaid bill and never again robbed from God.
While Don and Laura may never have robbed from God again, they did rob the U.S. treasury. Some of the churches Don preached at, including the churches I pastored, paid Don in cash. Don did not claim some or all of this cash income on his tax return. This proved to be quite a money boon to the Hardman’s.
Chapters four through six detail Don’s life as a pastor and evangelist. In 1980, Don graduated with a one year certificate from Jerry Falwell’s Liberty Baptist correspondence school. By this time, Don was on disability and he and his family moved back to eastern Ohio to be near family. While in eastern Ohio, the Hardman’s helped Victory Baptist Church in Kensington, Ohio and Lisbon Baptist Temple in Lisbon, Ohio.
Jim Midcap was their pastor while they attended Lisbon Baptist Temple. I preached for Jim in late 1980’s when he was pastor of Bible Baptist Church in Negley, Ohio. Jim returned the favor and preached for me while I was pastor of churches in Mt. Perry and West Unity, Ohio. For several years, Jim operated a clothing and food ministry that provided the Hardman’s with food and clothing to distribute to the poor and homeless in New Orleans, Louisiana. I had the privilege of taking a trip with Jim and a few other men from Ohio to Louisiana to deliver and distribute food and clothing. I had a great time and my eyes were opened to the plight of the poor in cities like New Orleans.
In November of 1980, the Hardman’s moved to Pennsboro, West Virgina to begin pastoring Pennsboro Baptist Church. According to Laura:
…We used all of our money to transport our mobile home and did not have enough money to have our gas turned on…Here we were far hence unto the Gentiles and not a penny to our name until the disability check came in. Still, this Preacher had not come here to become a Pastor, but to be a Servant of the Lord in whatever capacity he was needed.
Don began filling the pulpit at the Pennsboro Baptist Church every Sunday. Some liked him, and some did not like his free spirit in decision, but the congregation asked him to candidate as Pastor anyways. He was voted in as Pastor in December of 1980.
I am sure readers will ask, as I did, why moved to Pennsboro unless you planned on pastoring the church? Why move without having the funds necessary to turn on the gas? What happened in Kensington and Lisbon, Ohio that resulted in the Hardman’s quickly moving to West Virginia? The book answers none of these questions.
According to Laura, while at Pennboro Baptist, Don became “a friend to the friendless, a father to the fatherless and a teacher to the unlearned.” All Don wanted to do was “try to make a difference in people’s lives and get them to the God who changed his life.” Don spent two years trying to change the church, but, according to Laura, Don “could not seem to override the traditions of the church.” In the fall of 1982, Don resigned from the church and moved down the road to start Freedom Baptist Church. Five years later, Don left Freedom Baptist and began working full-time on what he called the Streets of America. From this time, until today, Don’s ministry is operated from a base in New Orleans and Midway Bible Baptist Church in Fishersville, Virginia.
Evangelist Don and Laura Hardman, Somerset Baptist Church, Mt. Perry, Ohio, Late 1980’s
I looked in vain for any mention in the book of myself and Somerset Baptist Church, Mt. Perry, Ohio. While Laura mentions numerous churches and preachers who gave Don his start, she makes no mention of me or Somerset Baptist. Laura seems to have forgotten that I was one on the first pastors to have Don hold a meeting for them. She seems to have forgotten than Don held at least five meetings for me, most of them two weeks long, at Somerset Baptist Church and Grace Baptist Church (later Our Father’s House) in West Unity, Ohio. She also fails to mention that we spent time with them at their parents home, named our youngest daughter after her, and brought a group from our church to their church’s Bible conference. Again, an uninformed reader would never learn that Bruce and Polly Gerencser, Somerset Baptist, and Grace Baptist, played an instrumental part in Don getting started in evangelism.
Of course, I understand why Laura might want to edit me and the churches I pastored out of Don’s life story. Nothing like having a preacher friend turned atheist muck up Don’s story of spiritual ascendency from drunk to Holy Spirit filled man of God.
Hardman portrays life in the ministry as one of standing for the truth at all costs. She details loss of friends and loss of meetings because of their stand for the blessed truths of the King James Bible. Not one time does Hardman ever speak of a problem being their fault. It’s always the liberals fault. There is always an enemy, imaginary or real, they are fighting. This is the kind of life narrow Baptist Fundamentalism brings.
This thinking is on prominent display in The Preacher. Not one time, does the book implicate Don or Laura. It ‘s always family, a church, or a pastor, who is to blame for broken fellowship or lost relationships. In Laura’s mind, her husband is a God-called man who is in tight with the Almighty. Those who take issue with Don’s preaching are liberals or carnal. Over the years, I saw Don repeatedly browbeat church members with the Bible, calling out their sins. One time, he went from teenager to teenager pointing his finger at them, exposing their secret sins. These tactics worked, with church members, visitors, and teenagers getting saved or repenting of secret sin. Was this God? Of course not. Like most skilled Baptist preachers, myself included, Don was an expert manipulator of emotions. He knew how to set the hook and reel the fish in.
And here’s thing, I know a lot of things that I can not share in this review. Since I have no way of verifying what I know, I can’t share it. I mentioned Don impregnating a 13-year-old girl and marriage to her because I have a copy of the marriage application. Other things that I think are likely true lack evidence. I can say this, there are those who think Don Hardman is an Elmer Gantry-like grifter; that he and Laura have spent four decades making an easy living off their marks. For readers not familiar with the term grifter, a grifter is “someone who swindles you through deception or fraud.”
Is it possible that Don and Laura Hardman are frauds? Sure. I have no way of knowing or proving this, but I do know that the IFB church has turned out a number of con artists, some of who have gone on to pastor large churches. Bob Gray pastored Trinity Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida for decades. He was finally exposed as an adulterer and child molester, a life of perversion that began when he entered the ministry in 1949. I heard Bob Gray and Don preach at the same preacher’s meeting in Cambridge, Ohio. The Hardman’s are or were friends with a number of the men who operated IFB teen group homes. Many of these men have been accused of child abuse, sexual assault, and rape.
Evangelist Don and Laura Hardman, Grace Baptist Church (Our Father’s House) West Unity, Ohio, Circa 2000
Supposedly, a few years back, I can’t remember the exact date, Don had cancer. This cancer was killing Don and modern western medicine couldn’t cure him. The Hardman’s raised a significant amount of money so Don could get alternative cancer treatment in Mexico. Yet, Don’s cancer story is not mentioned in the book. Wouldn’t a miraculous healing from deadly cancer be an important story to share? While this story isn’t shared, Laura spends 32 pages, almost 25% of the biography part of the book, detailing the lightning story. Based on the amount of space given to this story, it’s safe to say that the Hardman’s consider this the highlight of their time in the ministry.
July 1, 2003, finds Don and Laura holding a meeting at First Baptist Church in Forest, Ohio. Don’s sermon text for the night is I Kings 8. Laura writes:
About halfway into the message, we could hear the thunder and see the lightning through the stained glass windows, During his preaching, when a loud crack of thunder rang out, Don would say, “Yes, Lord, we are listening.” He made reference to the verse God’s voice was like thunder. (Psalms 77:18)
All of a sudden, a lightning bolt hit the church and burnt out the sound system, blowing the light bulbs out of their sockets behind the pulpit. We could smell the burning wires but still did not know we had taken a direct hit. Not once did we lose our electricity, so Don kept preaching on Solomon’s prayer of repentance. About 20 minutes later, a women came running into the church and said, “the church is on fire.”
This event made the news, from the local paper to the Toledo Blade. It was mentioned on CNN and Don had interviews with the BBC, the NBC Today Show, and Paul Harvey. The book has several of the news stories along with a transcript of Don’s interview with Matt Lauer on the Today Show:
Again, what I find interesting is what is missing in this chapter. Laura makes no mention of the name of the pastor of First Baptist Church in Forest. Why is this? Perhaps it is because not too long after God’s lightning bolt sign from above, the pastor of the church was removed for sexual misconduct. The image of Evangelist Hardman must not be tainted by any connection with an atheist, adulterers, child abusers, or rapists. Like the precious blood of Jesus that wipes away all recollection of sin before salvation, Laura conveniently writes out of the book anyone who doesn’t affirm, strengthen, or reinforce Don’s drunk to Holy Spirit filled traveling evangelist testimony.
Over the years, Don has lost a number of the churches he once preached for. Whether this was due to his refusal to answer questions about his past or the length and content of his sermons, Don now has just a handful of churches he regularly holds meetings for; churches like Old Time Baptist Church, (Pastor Lou Guadagno) Buffalo, New York, Lighthouse Baptist Church, (Pastor David Constantino) North Tonawanda, New York, and Amazing Grace Baptist Church, (Pastor Jimmy Hood) Columbus, Ohio. As Laura admits in the book, most of the churches that once had Don preach for them no longer do so.
For the churches and pastors Don still preaches for, Don is a god-called evangelist mightily used by God to win souls and call backslidden church members to repentance. For others, Don is a long-winded, legalistic preacher. And for a few others, perhaps those who know Don and Laura Hardman the best, the Hardman’s are grifters who have found an easy way to make money. For me personally, there are things I have been told that deeply trouble me. While there is no hard evidence for these things, especially since many of these things happened decades ago, there’s enough smoke to make wonder if there is a fire. If I had known these things when Don first preached for me in 1987, I doubt that I would have had him do so. If I was still a Christian, I could play the pious preacher and say that God will make all things known on judgment day. As an atheist, all I can do is review Laura Hardman’s books and make my observations known. It is up to you the reader to determine whether what I write is true.
I do not know of any place this book can be purchased. Someone connected to the Hardman family sent me a copy of the book. Laura Hardman’s first book was published by Victory Baptist Press, but I did not find her newest book in their online catalog.