Quote of the Day

Quote of the Day: What Do We Really Know About the Birth of Jesus?

bart ehrman

To begin with, we are extremely limited in our sources when it comes to knowing anything at all about the birth of Jesus. In fact, at the end of the day, I think we can’t really know much at all. Just to cut to the chase, I think that it is most probable that he was born in Nazareth in the northern part of what we today think of as Israel (back then, in Galilee), where he was certainly raised from the time he was a child. His parents were Jewish by birth, religion, culture. I’d assume their names were really Joseph and Mary. We don’t know anything about them other than the fact that Joseph may have been a TEKTON, which means that he worked with his hands, maybe with wood, or with stone, or with metal. Jesus also had brothers (four are named in one of our sources) and sisters, so it would have been a relatively large family and presumably living at or near the poverty line. Nazareth was an impoverished little hamlet.

Back to the sources.   Our earliest accounts are in the New Testament.  Two of the Gospels , Mark and John, say nothing of Jesus’ birth; the other two, Matthew and Luke are where we get most, but not all, of our traditions of Jesus’ birth from: the trip to Bethelehem, no room in the inn, the Shepherds, the wise men, the slaughter of the innocents, the flight to Egypt, etc. etc.   These Gospels were written over fifty years after the events they narrate, and there is nothing to suggest that they had access to eyewitness reports, or to any reliable information at all.  Both accounts contain several implausibilities, as we will see, and they are hopelessly at odds with one another on numerous points.

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Finally, there are lots of things that we do not know about the birth of Jesus.   As examples:

• We don’t know what year he was born.  If he was indeed born during the reign of Herod the Great, then it would have had to be before 4 BCE, since that is when Herod died (creating, of course, the intriguing irony that Jesus was born four years Before Christ!)

• We don’t know what day he was born (it was not until the fourth century that Dec. 25 was chosen, so that Christmas could replace Saturnalia as the great holiday to be celebrated)

• We don’t know – as I will try to demonstrate in subsequent posts – anything about the virginity of his mother (how *could* we know?  Anyone who thinks she was a virgin does so as an act of faith, but there’s no way to demonstrate anything like that historically; in theory, even if she told people she was a virgin, that wouldn’t prove it [of course!]; and there have been lots of people who claimed to be virgins who gave birth, either because they were self-deceived, or willing to deceive others, or unknowingly violated or … other options) or whether he was actually born in Bethlehem (I’ll argue that the answer is probably not).

— Bart Ehrman, What Can We Know About the Birth of Jesus?, December 8, 2018

Quote of the Day: Did Christian Arrogance Get John Allen Chau Killed?

john allen chau

There’s a story that’s been in the news about a Christian missionary named John Allen Chau who was killed by an indigenous tribe while attempting to evangelize them into Christianity. Apparently the tribe who live on the North Sentinel Island only number between 50 – 150 people and have refused contact with the outside world. Because they’ve had virtually no contact with the outside world, the Sentinelese people also haven’t been exposed to most contagious diseases. Their immune systems aren’t strong enough to handle even the common cold. Therefore it’s actually illegal to make contact with them – partly for their protection. Despite of this, John Allen Chau – an Oral Roberts University graduate – took it upon himself to go and tell them about Jesus. Apparently he had been there before, shouting “My name is John, and I love you and Jesus loves you” to the bow and arrow wielding tribesmen at which point they started shooting at him. One of their arrows even pieced his Bible, but that didn’t stop him. He went back a second time and this time he didn’t make it out alive.

My first thought is, why? Why would you do that? Why risk your life to go and tell a hostile tribe about Jesus when they clearly don’t want to hear about Jesus? The answer, of course, is arrogance. Here you have a tribe that does their own thing and doesn’t bother anybody and they just want to be left alone. They’re a small community of people; they probably eat healthy as they don’t have access to the processed stuff that we eat. Apparently, they don’t even understand what money is or how to use it. So, they don’t have all the stress that we have that goes along with having money. Maybe they’re backwards, maybe they’re savages and they shoot people with arrows, but are we really so certain that our way of life is better than theirs? Are we so certain that they are lost and in need of saving? And that’s the Christian arrogance that I’m talking about. Because then you have a guy who grew up in a Christian culture, went to a Christian university where he was given a particular worldview and he just assumes that this worldview is the correct one.

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My second thought involves the sheer preposterousness (is that a word?) of it. Apparently God created this tribe of people, but then he decided that they must go to hell. But at the same time, he loves them, so he’s kind of in two minds about it. He comes up with a solution – he butchers Jesus on a cross, which is supposed to solve the problem, except it doesn’t. Unless someone goes to this island and tells them that God butchered his son on a cross and they believe it, they’re still going to hell. Perhaps the reason why the Sentinelese refused contact with the outside world is because they didn’t want to be corrupted by crazy ideas such as this.

What really got to me is that – when I read some of the comments on the articles covering this story – a lot of people said things like, “This guy is a hero… he has earned a great reward”, “He fulfilled his mandate” and “What a mighty welcome home he received from our Savior Christ the King”. And the Sentinelese people are the backwards ones? Do we still believe in a God who will reward us with stuff if we get ourselves killed against our better judgement? Christians are making out like he died for a worthy cause when the only reason he went there was so that he could feel better about himself and his own relationship with God. That probably sounds very judgmental of me, but I know this because admittedly I did similar things when I still called myself a Christian. I used to do talks at rehabs and my talks involved Bible verses. I don’t think my intention was to convert anyone to Christianity, but a part of me did do it for my own ego.

— Erik Stoop, Voices From the Wild, Did Arrogance get John Allen Chau Killed?, November 22, 2018

Please see my post on Chau’s Death, Who’s to Blame for the Brutal Death of Evangelical Missionary John Allen Chau?

Quote of the Day: Breaking Out of Our Religious Restraints

neil carterOnce we break out of our [religious] restraints, we begin to discover our own capabilities. It turns out we each have our own modest little superpowers, only we’ve not had the opportunity or the freedom to exercise them. Once we acquire those, we soon come to know sides of ourselves we never knew before…and so does everybody else.

It’s not long before those things which we are truly good at—those things which become a significant part of our contribution to the world—earn us accolades and respect from people around us. Our self-image begins to improve because there are things that we’re truly good at, things we find we love to do.

That’s a good thing, right? Well, that depends on whom you ask.

The kind of Christianity I came from taught that you’re supposed to “surrender” your greatest strengths and abilities to God. What they meant by that was always a little fuzzy, but the gist of it was that the Almighty likes to get the credit for the things you can do, and he doesn’t like to share it. There was always the danger that you would be “too good” at what you do, or “too strong,” and the God of the Bible prefers weakness over strength.

The very first story in the Bible presents us with a God who didn’t want his creatures to know too much. He wanted their capabilities to remain limited so that they would remain more dependent on him, I suppose. As time goes on, we see in the text that it is the “bad guys” who made all the technological advances while those who “called upon the name of the Lord” remained comparatively primitive.

At one point in that ongoing saga, humanity built a tall building and God got really miffed about that. The Bible explicitly says that it was humanity’s growing capabilities that upset the ancient deity, and he stepped in to thwart their progress and shut that down immediately.

This theme runs like a thread through the entire biblical narrative. In one place the Bible says God reduced the size of Israel’s army from 30,000 to 300 just to ensure that no one else could get the credit for their victory. John the Baptist struck the same note when he announced the inauguration of Jesus, saying that “he must increase, but I must decrease.” And the apostle Paul perhaps more than anyone else stressed over and over again that “[God’s] power is made perfect in weakness.”

It’s no wonder evangelicals like me developed a complex about giving ourselves credit for anything we do. We were programmed from birth to repel compliments the way that Teflon repels grease. Thinking less of yourself is central to the Christian faith. Without that, you don’t need a savior at all, and that would cause the whole religious edifice to collapse.

Imagine if doctors fitted all children with leg braces no matter what their condition. Imagine if medical school taught them that all children have crooked backs requiring corrective restraints. That’s kind of like the Christian faith. Everybody’s born broken and, left to their own devices, they will turn out wrong. Good thing we have the church there to tell us how to think and how to live, right?

— Neil Carter, Godless in Dixie, Outgrowing Our Religion: Are We Ready?, November 18, 2018

Quote of the Day: Thoughts on Morality by Bob Seidensticker

bob seidensticker

On the topic of morality, [Evangelical Frank] Turek couldn’t resist a Holocaust reference. He showed a photo of the Buchenwald concentration camp with stacks of dead bodies. He said,

If there is no god, this is just a matter of opinion.

The statement “I like chocolate” is just an opinion. By contrast, I wouldn’t call “I recommend we declare war” in a cabinet meeting just an opinion, but that’s a quibble. If Turek wants to say that both are conclusions grounded in the person making the statement and nothing else, I agree. The same is true for “the Holocaust was wrong.”

What alternative does Turek propose?

Turek imagines a morality grounded outside of humanity. He would probably agree with William Lane Craig’s definition of objective morality, “moral values that are valid and binding whether anybody believes in them or not.”

The other explanation for morality

But there’s no need to imagine Turek’s universal moral truth when we have a better alternate explanation: universally held moral programming. We’re all the same species, so we have similar responses to moral questions. That explains things nicely without the unsupported assumption of a supernatural being.

Turek confuses the degree of outrage (which, for the Holocaust, is quite high) with the degree of absoluteness. He seems to imagine that the more emphatically we think that the Holocaust was wrong, the more objective that moral opinion must be, but why imagine this? He provides no evidence to support universal moral truth or to reject the obvious alternative, universally held moral programming.

Let’s take a step back and consider his example. God allows 11 million innocent people to die in the Holocaust, and Turek thinks that this is an example supporting his side of the ledger?

Morality also changes with time. In the West, we’re pleased with our abolition of slavery and the civil rights we’ve established, but these aren’t universals. The modern views on these issues contradict the Old Testament’s, but none of us cling to the Old Testament view. Turek’s objective morality doesn’t allow change with time.

Morality vs. absolute morality

Turek listed things that must be true if God doesn’t exist. First, “The Nazis were not wrong.” If morality is an opinion, the Nazis had an opinion and the Allies had an opinion. We said they were wrong; they said we were wrong. Stalemate.

Nope—dude needs a dictionary. He’s confusing morality with absolute morality. I agree that the Nazis were not wrong in an absolute sense. But they were still wrong (from my standpoint) using the definition of morality in the dictionary, which makes no reference to an absolute grounding.

He continues his list with more examples of the same error: love is no better than rape, killing people is no different than feeding the poor, and so on. In an absolute sense, he’s right; he just hasn’t given any reason to imagine that morality is based in absolutes. Drop the assumption of absoluteness, and nothing is left unexplained.

Why the insistence on objective or universal or absolute morality? We don’t have any problem with shared (rather than absolute) ideas of other concepts like courage, justice, charity, hope, patience, humility, greed, or pride. Again, the dictionary agrees. None of these have an objective grounding, and the earth keeps turning just fine.

— Bob Seidensticker, Cross Examined, Frank Turek’s Criminally Bad C.R.I.M.E.S. Argument: Morality, November 26, 2016

Books by Bob Seidensticker

Cross Examined: An Unconventional Spiritual Journey

A Modern Christmas Carol

 

Quote of the Day: Should We Believe Fantastical Christian Testimonies About Satanism?

satan is real

A word to the wise: we should always regard Christian testimonies as unreliable.

They function as sales pitches and attention-grabbers–and as such, contain exaggerations and outright fabrications meant to aid in those functions. Their creators spend a lot of time crafting them to be like that. And they know very well that a really dramatic testimony can catapult them into stardom.

But when Christians add the bombastic elements of the Satanic Panic to their already-inflated sales pitches, they can elevate those stories to the stratosphere. MAGIC! WITCHCRAFT! SEX! BLOOD! DEMONS! And then, just when the allure of this conspiracy theory seems to be too great to bear, we add in the fact that literally nobody will ever demand proof that anything in the testimony really happened.

(That sound you might have just heard was Christian conjobs messily exploding in their pants.)

Christian audiences have always loved and thrilled to Satanic Panic testimonies. These stories represent triumphs over their enemies. They fulfill all of Christians’ wishes and hopes for conversions. They even (massively incorrectly) consider these stories PROOF YES PROOF of their religion’s veracity.

Consequently, a garden-variety Christian grifter can easily become a rock star with a good Satanic Panic testimony.

Back when I was Christian, I personally watched my own tribemates ignore more humdrum, pedestrian testimonies like mine. Instead, they clambered over each other to get closer to a Satanic Panicker like my ex Biff.

— Captain Cassidy, Roll to Disbelieve, Can Christians Restart the Satanic Panic?, October 27, 2018

Quote of the Day: Trump’s Economy vs. The Economy Most of Us Live In

robert reich

As White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow recently put it, “The single biggest story this year is an economic boom that is durable and lasting.”

Really? Look closely at the living standards of most Americans, and you get a very different picture.

Yes, the stock market has boomed since Trump became president. But it’s looking increasingly wobbly as Trump’s trade wars take a toll.

Over 80 percent of the stock market is owned by the richest 10 percent of Americans anyway, so most Americans never got much out of Trump’s market boom to begin with.

The trade wars are about to take a toll on ordinary workers. Trump’s steel tariffs have cost Ford $1 billion so far, for example, forcing the automaker to plan mass layoffs.

What about economic growth? Data from the Commerce Department shows the economy at full speed, 4.2 percent growth for the second quarter.

But very little of that growth is trickling down to average Americans. Adjusted for inflation, hourly wages aren’t much higher now than they were forty years ago.

Trump slashed taxes on the wealthy and promised everyone else a $4,000 wage boost. But the boost never happened. That’s a big reason why Republicans aren’t campaigning on their tax cut, which is just about their only legislative accomplishment.

Trump and congressional Republicans refuse to raise the minimum wage, stuck at $7.25 an hour. Trump’s Labor Department is also repealing a rule that increased the number of workers entitled to time-and-a-half for overtime.

Yes, unemployment is down to 3.7 percent. But jobs are less secure than ever. Contract workers – who aren’t eligible for family or medical leave, unemployment insurance, the minimum wage, or worker’s compensation – are now doing one out of every five jobs in America.

Trump’s Labor Department has invited more companies to reclassify employees as contract workers. Its new rule undoes the California Supreme Court’s recent decision requiring that most workers be presumed employees unless proven otherwise. (Given California’s size, that decision had nationwide effect.)

Meanwhile, housing costs are skyrocketing, with Americans now paying a third or more of their paychecks in rent or mortgages.

Trump’s response? Drastic cuts in low-income housing. His Secretary of Housing and Urban Development also wants to triple the rent paid by poor households in subsidized housing.

Healthcare costs continues to rise faster than inflation. Trump’s response? Undermine the Affordable Care Act. Over the past two years, some 4 million people have lost healthcare coverage, according to a survey by the Commonwealth Fund.

Pharmaceutical costs are also out of control. Trump’s response? Allow the biggest pharmacist, CVS, to merge with the one of the biggest health insurers, Aetna — creating a behemoth with the power to raise prices even further.

The cost of college continues to soar. Trump’s response? Make it easier for for-profit colleges to defraud students. His Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, is eliminating regulations that had required for-profit colleges to prove they provide gainful employment to the students they enroll.

Commuting to and from work is becoming harder, as roads and bridges become more congested, and subways and trains older and less reliable. Trump’s response? Nothing. Although he promised to spend $1.5 trillion to repair America’s crumbling infrastructure, his $1.5 trillion tax cut for big corporations and the wealthy used up the money.

Climate change is undermining the standard of living of ordinary Americans, as more are hit with floods, mudslides, tornados, draughts, and wildfires. Even those who have so far avoided direct hits will be paying more for insurance – or having a harder time getting it. People living on flood plains, or in trailers, or without home insurance, are paying the highest price.

Trump’s response? Allow more carbon into the atmosphere and make climate change even worse.

Too often, discussions about “the economy” focus on overall statistics about growth, the stock market, and unemployment.

But most Americans don’t live in that economy. They live in a personal economy that has more to do with wages, job security, commutes to and from work, and the costs of housing, healthcare, drugs, education, and home insurance.

These are the things that hit closest home. They comprise the typical American’s standard of living.

— Robert Reich, Alternet, Here’s the Truth About Trump’s ‘Great Economy’, October 21, 2018

Quote of the Day: White Evangelicals Sacrificing Sexual Assault Victims on Altar of Political Expediency

pastor jeff cook

The marginalized, the abused, those culture perceives as weak — are often those whom Jesus served and defended first. In his most important sermon he called down blessing on “the meek,” “the mourning,” and those “starving for justice.” In fact, he died at the hands of those who mocked “truth” and used the legal system for self-serving ends. But his is a legacy of honor and it is a gift many of us embrace today.

With this in mind, let me list some truths I find alarming. National stats show that one out of every five women will be raped and one in six men will be sexually abused or assaulted. Such stats also unveil that less than 1 percent of rapists will be convicted of their crime, and the vast majority of sexual assaults are never reported. Research also shows that false accusations are incredibly rare (one local researcher claimed the number was .005 percent of all reported rapes are lies). So as we hear stories of sexual assault in the news and the lasting damage they have done not only to those on TV but to a large percent of our neighbors with similar stories, we need to acknowledge the abuse and marginalization of many among us. And Christians in particular need to be reminded that these kinds of people were those Jesus turned to serve and bless first.

When a sexual assault victim comes forward and tells her story at great cost to herself. When she says she remembers their laughter. She remembers fearing being suffocated more than being raped. She remembers bouncing from the bed when the second man jumped on it. She remembers locking herself in the bathroom, but cannot remember what day it happened or who else was in the house — these stories matter and they are the identical accounts of many not on TV. They have the ping of truth for sexually abused teens will not know what to do after they have been violated. They will often hide their shame and try to put that memory as far away from themselves as possible — just so they can function.

The Kavanaugh nomination process for the Supreme Court this week shows how hopelessly broken the American government is right now, and as such how broken American society is. I am a white evangelical male, and I have been shocked that it is my Evangelical brothers and sisters — who for decades have been the most outspoken about high moral standards regarding sex — who have been among the most vocal in silencing the testimonies of sexual assault victims this month. In fact, according to a recent Marist poll, 48 percent of white evangelicals think a proven history of sexual assault should not disqualify someone from the Supreme Court, and 16 percent of white evangelicals would not answer the question at all.

When white evangelicals choose to support those accused of sex crimes without considering evidence, those who have been assaulted are listening! For those of us who were sexually abused when we were young, the words of Senators and the President and Christians around the country about the woman on TV aren’t about her. They are about us. You are speaking about our past which we haven’t told anyone. You are accusing us of having bad intentions and calling us liars. You are choosing not to advocate for the abused and marginalized, but to hold our hearts out, place them in an ashtray and smother them because you need to fill a government job.

How unlike Jesus. How truly pathetic. White evangelicals, stewards of Christ’s words and power, are sacrificing relationships and trust with the very kinds of people Jesus served and blessed first — and it needs to end now.

— Jeff Cook, pastor of Atlas Church in Greeley, Colorado, The Tribune, October 7, 2018

Quote of the Day: Atheist Historian Tim O’Neill on How He Views the Bible

tim o'neillI see it [the Bible] the same way as I see all kinds of other ancient texts — indications of what people centuries ago believed. Some of it is very beautiful, some of it contains genuine wisdom, some of it is rather alien and some of it is repugnant. I could say the same about the corpus of Old Norse texts as well. Or texts from Sumeria. It’s hard to have much more than a very general perspective on “the Bible as a whole”, because – as I often have to remind my more emotional fellow atheists — it isn’t a book, it’s a library of texts of different kinds, dates, genres, languages and intentions. The traditional Christian conception of “the Bible” as a coherent instruction manual from God has clear “historical, cultural significance” and certain translations (the Vulgate, the King James) have “aesthetic significance”. But the dismissal of it as “worthless fairy tales written by desert sheep-herders and savages” is just anti-theistic reaction against the way it has been and still is used and interpreted by many Christians. A rationalist can mentally separate the ancient texts from the way they have been interpreted and look at them for what they are.

— Tim O’Neill, History for Atheists, Jesus Mythicism 3: “No Contemporary References to Jesus” (Comment), May 25, 2018

Quote of the Day: Would the Disciples of Jesus Die for a Lie?

bart ehrman

QUESTION: Another very very popular evidence put forward for the resurrection is “the disciples would not have died for what they knew was a lie, therefore it must have happened.” I hear this all the time. You note that they really believed they saw Jesus after he died so they were not lying. However, is there evidence (historical or literary) that they were killed because of their belief in Jesus’ resurrection?

Ah yes, if I had a fiver for every time I’ve heard this comment over the years, I could retire to a country-home in Maine…. Several other people have responded to this question on the blog by saying that we have lots of records of lots of people who have died for a something that they knew, literally, not to be true. I am not in a position to argue that particular point. But I can say something about all the disciples dying for believing in the resurrection.

The way the argument (by Christian apologists) goes is this (I know this, because I used to make the same argument myself, when I was a Christian apologist!): all the apostles were martyred for their faith, because they believed Jesus had been raishgggged from the dead; you can see why someone might be willing to die for the truth; but no one would die for a lie; and therefore the disciples – all of them – clearly believed that Jesus was raised from the dead. And if they *all* believed it, then it almost certainly is true (since none of them thought otherwise, they must have all seen Jesus alive after his death).

The big problem with this argument is that it assumes precisely what we don’t know.   We don’t know how most of the disciples died.   People always *say* that the apostles were all martyred.  But next time someone tells you that, ask them how they know.  Or better yet, ask them which ancient source they are referring to that says so.

The reality is this.  We simply do not have reliable information about what happened to Jesus’ disciples after he died.  In fact, we scarcely have any information about them while they were still living!  Read the Gospels, and ask yourself what they tell us about Bartholomew, or Judas-not-Iscariot, or Thaddaeus and so on.  Answer: next to nothing.  And what does the book of Acts tell us about what they did after Jesus death and resurrection?  Answer: next to nothing (just some comments about them as a group, not as individuals).  And what does the book of Acts tell us about how they died?  Almost nothing.  (Acts does mention the death of James and the death of Stephen – the latter was not a disciple and did not have a post-resurrection appearance of Jesus granted to him.)

Nor do we have reliable accounts from later times.  What we have are legends, about some of the apostles – chiefly Peter, Paul, Thomas, Andrew, and John.   But the apocryphal Acts that tell their stories are indeed highly apocryphal.   They are great reading and great fun, highly entertaining and highly enlightening for what later Christians were saying about these earlier champions of the faith.  But they are not historically reliable accounts of their lives (recall Peter and the smoked tuna and Peter and the flying heretic) or their deaths (such as Peter’s crucifixion upside down; during which he gives a long sermon).

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In case someone should object – why would anyone believe so fervently in the resurrection without being an eyewitness?? – need I point out that there are about a two billion people today who believe it without being an eyewitness?  Really, truly, and deeply believe it?   You don’t need to see Jesus with your own eyes to believe what someone else says about him, that *they* saw Jesus with their own eyes.   So too with the early disciples.  None of them left us any writings, so we don’t know what they saw, heard, or experienced.   And we don’t know how most of them died.   And so it makes no sense to argue that they were martyred because they “knew” on the basis of their own experience that Jesus had been raised.

— Bart Ehrman, The Bart Ehrman Blog, Would the Disciples Die for A Lie? Proofs for the Resurrection, September 13, 2018

If you aren’t a registered member of Dr. Ehrman’s blog, I encourage you to pony up $24.99 and join his site.  Dr. Ehrman is a prolific writer, and he covers many interesting Biblical and historical subjects. All proceeds go to charity. I thoroughly enjoy reading his writing.

Quote of the Day: Donald Trump’s Rules of Life and Leadership

evangelical support for donald trump

Cartoon by Dan Wasserman

Here are the Trump Rules, distilled from conversations we have had with countless people close to the president, some of whom have studied him for years:

  • Your brand should piss someone off. The worst thing you can be is milquetoast, bland. He wants some people to have a viscerally negative response to him and what he’s doing, because he bets that’s going to harden support on the other side.
  • Crisis is a powerful weapon — fire it indiscriminately. “Forget planning,” a source said. “Wake up every morning, survey the battlefield, let your gut instinct lead you to a crisis to exploit, bet that no one else can thrive in the chaos the way you can. Ratchet up the pressure until everyone else’s pipes burst.”
  • You can create your own truth. Just keep repeating it.
  • Accuse the accuser. A source who’s spent hundreds of hours working with Trump puts it this way: “He has a history of accusing people of whatever he’s being accused of. Collusion? Democrats colluded on the dossier! Blue wave? Red wave coming!”
  • Fear trumps friendship. Trump wants his inferiors to fear him and hold him in awe. He likes watching them duke it out in front of him.
  • Loyalty trumps talent. Case in point: Michael Cohen. No serious person would employ Michael Cohen as their personal attorney — a point Trump has belatedly acknowledged himself. But as Cohen used to say, he’d “take a bullet” for Donald Trump. Oops.
  • Never admit you are — or did — wrong.  Trump’s #MeToo advice, per Bob Woodward’s “Fear”: “You’ve got to deny, deny, deny and push back on these women. If you admit to anything and any culpability, then you’re dead.”

— Jonathan Swan, Mike Allen, Jim VandeHei, Axios, The Trump Rules for Life and Leadership, September 11, 2018

Quote of the Day: Atheists Should Persuade, But Not Proselytize by Daniel Fincke

daniel finke

Should atheists engage in proselytization? I solicited questions about my philosophy of atheism on Facebook and that’s the topic of the first question: Do you think trying to “convert” people to atheism is a good idea generally or at least sometimes?

I don’t think atheism is something you “convert” to. Atheism is just one philosophical position, not an entire system of beliefs or anything like the complex set of beliefs and practices and communities that religions involve. There are religions that are atheistic and there are people with a (metaphorically) religious zeal about their atheism. There can also be atheist philosophies and communities that are not exactly religions but to one degree or another developed and organized and defined alternatives to religions.

But the real question being asked in the prompt question is whether it’s a good idea to try to get people to become atheists.

I am all for trying to persuade people of atheism, but not at all for trying to proselytize for atheism. I write articles making the case for atheism and in suitable forums where people are willingly up for debate I will argue for atheism directly to individuals.

But I would never approach my relationships with individuals with the attitude that it’s my job to change their thinking and change their lives. I do not target new people I meet and make it my mission to change them. I abhor the idea of forming relationships with people with the ulterior motive of just trying to get them to join my club. I also do not accost strangers or try to rope acquaintances into discussions about religion. It is wrong to approach relationships with others with a manipulative agenda to change them. If I cannot accept you as you are, then I am going to avoid having anything to do with you, not take it upon myself to change you. I don’t want to have the necessary self-satisfaction and self-righteousness to approach people in an asymmetric way where I see myself as the one in possession of the key knowledge of what is true and good and the other person is an ignorant person in need of my intervention. I want reciprocal encounters. I don’t want to engage in conversations with the attitude that I’m certainly right and I know what is best for the person I’m talking to and the other person is someone to be corrected. I don’t want to disrespect other people that way.

….

That said, I have described myself in the past as an “evangelical” atheist because I really do want to persuade people of atheism. I am unusually passionate about atheism becoming more common. I prefer to argue for atheism through the impersonal medium of writing because it allows people to process what I say in their own way and on their own schedule. My ultimate goal in advancing atheism is increasing people’s autonomy and rational understanding. Writing articles that people can privately read and digest without any social pressure from me is a great way for people to be truly free to engage the arguments on their own terms.

….

I also want to persuade people of atheism because I think it’s the best philosophical position on the question of interventionist personal deities and I think people ideally should believe what is true. So, even where a given individual’s theism does not link up to any undue deference to religious authorities, I would theoretically hope to persuade them of the better philosophical position (assuming I am right about what that is—and of course I’m happy to keep listening to my interlocutors and to be the one to change my mind if I am the one who is indeed wrong) since that’s a good in its own right. I don’t think there is anything wrong with having philosophical opinions or arguing for them because you think they’re correct and you think it’s, all things equal, better that people hold more correct philosophical views. This does not turn into proselytization as soon as the topic you have philosophical views about is theism or religion. Just because conflicts over religious ideas and practices have been nasty and oppressive does not mean that everyone who wants to advance a philosophical position about theism or religion is an authoritarian looking to impose a religion on others against their will.

— Daniel Fincke, Camels with Hammers, Atheists Should Persuade, But Not Proselytize, September 1, 2018

Quote of the Day: Was Fundamentalist Creationist Henry Morris a Racist?

henry morris

In the early 1960s, Henry Morris revolutionized the young earth creationist world with his seminal work, The Genesis Flood. Morris unleashed what is today referred to as a “creationist renaissance” and became the father of modern young earth creationism. He was also racist—and he grounded his racism in his young earth creationist beliefs.

You don’t have to take my word for it. In his 1997 book, The Beginning of the World: A Scientific Study of Genesis 1-11, Morris wrote about Noah’s curse on his son Ham.

Of the descendants of Ham, he wrote that:

“Their future will be one of service—providing mainly for the material and physical needs of mankind. Shem, on the other hand, with his concern for the Lord and His honor, will through his descendants lead men to know and follow God. Japheth also, with his more serious approach to life and its meaning, will see his descendants enlarged geographically and mentally, coming to dwell finally in the spiritual house built by the children of Shem. The children of Ham, however, even those of his youngest and least responsible son, Canaan, will have to be content with giving service to both Shem and Japheth providing the material basis of human society, upon which the spiritual and intellectual concerns of mankind can be superimposed.”

The sons of Ham provide for “the material and physical needs of mankind.” The sons of Shem build a “spiritual house.” The sons of Japheth have a “more serious approach to life and its meaning” and are enlarged “geographically and mentally.”

Just so we’re clear, the children of Ham are the African, Asian, and Native American races. The children of Shem are the Jewish people and other Middle Eastern peoples. The children of Japheth are Europeans.

I don’t have to guess at this, either. Morris writes it himself:

“The descendants of Ham were marked especially for secular service to mankind. … The prophecy is worldwide in scope and, since Shem and Japheth are covered, all Ham’s descendants must be also. These include all nations which are neither Semitic nor Japhetic. Thus, all of the earth’s ‘colored’ races—yellow, red, brown, and black; essentially the Afro-Asian group of peoples, including the American Indians—are possibly Hamitic in origin and included within the scope of the Canaanitic prophecy, as well as the Egyptians, Sumerians, Hittites, and Phoenicians of antiquity.”

Morris remarks that the descendants of Ham—“yellow, red, brown, and black”—were “marked especially for secular service to mankind.”

What has this “secular service” involved? Let’s have a look:

“The Hamites have been the great ‘servants’ of mankind in the following ways, among many others: (1) they were the original explorers and settlers of practically all parts of the world, following the dispersion at Babel; (2) they were the first cultivators of most of the basic food staples of the world, such as potatoes, corn, beans, cereals, and others, as well as the first ones to domesticate most animals; (3) they developed most of the basic types of structural forms and building tools and materials; (4) they were the first to develop fabrics for clothing and various sewing and weaving devices; (5) they were the discoverers and inventors of an amazingly wide variety of medicines and surgical practices and instruments; (6) most of the concepts of basic mathematics, including algebra, geometry, and trigonometry were developed by Hamites; (7) the machinery of commerce and trade—money, banks, postal systems, etc.—were invented by them; (8) they developed paper, ink, block printing, moveable type, and other accoutrements of writing and communication. It seems that almost no matter what the particular device or principle or system may be, if one traces back far enough, he will find that it originated with the Sumerians or Egyptians or early Chinese or some other Hamitic people. Truly, they have been the ‘servants’ of mankind in a most amazing way.“

This start may be surprising. I know I found it surprising. After all, some of the things on that list are not what we would consider material or physical accomplishments. The remainder of this section, however, is more predictable:

“Yet the prophecy again has its obverse side. Somehow, they have only gone so far and no further. The Japhethites and Semites have, sooner or later, taken over their territories and their inventions, and then developed them and utilized them for their own enlargement. Often the Hamites, especially the Negroes, have become actual personal servants or even slaves to the others. Possessed of a genetic character concerned mainly with mundane matters, they were eventually displaced by the intellectual and philosophical acumen of the Japhethites and the religious zeal of the Semites.”

“Possessed of a genetic character concerned mainly with mundane matters…”

Morris goes on, growing only more direct:

“The Japhethites have been ‘enlarged,’ taking over lands originally settled by Hamites, and developing the Hamitic technology into science and philosophy. Japhethites have provided the intellectual aspect to humanity’s life, Hamites the physical, and Semites the spiritual. Japheth has, even in the present age, largely taken over the religious function from Shem—‘he shall dwell in the tents of Shem’ (Gen. 9:27).

“These very general and broad national and racial characteristics obviously admit of many exceptions on an individual genetic basis. It is also obvious that the prophecy is a divine description of future events, in no way needing the deliberate assistance of man for its accomplishment. Neither Negroes nor any other Hamitic people were intended to be forcibly subjugated on the basis of this Noah declaration. The prophecy would be inevitably fulfilled because of the innate natures of the three genetic stocks, not by virtue of any artificial constraints imposed by man.”

“because of the innate natures of the three genetic stocks…”

Yes, you did read that right—Morris did in fact write that slavery was the inevitable result of “the innate natures of the three genetic stocks.” He wrote that. He wrote that in 1977, and it was published by a creationist publisher.

I grew up reading Henry Morris. I grew up seeing him lionized in young earth creationist circles. He was the father of modern young earth creationism. To the best of my knowledge, however, I never read Morris’ The Beginning of the World. I’m glad that I did not; if I had, I would have read it as an impressionable teen.

— Libby Anne, Love, Joy, Feminism, On the Racism of Creationist Henry Morris, August 20, 2018

The views espoused by Henry Morris were similar to those I was taught at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. My biology teacher, in particular, taught that students should only marry after their own “kind.” Today, he would have been right at home among white supremacists. Several teachers believed that the mark God put on Cain for killing Abel was making him black. These racists told an elaborate Bible story to justify their racism. Years ago, I ran into followers of IFB luminary Peter Ruckman who believed that it was a waste of time to evangelize blacks. Why? They didn’t have souls.