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Category: Quote of the Day

Quote of the Day: Does it Matter if Biblical Scribes Changed Their Manuscripts?

bart ehrman

I am not saying that “we have no idea what the authors of the New Testament wrote.” I’ve never said that. The book doesn’t say that. The book is not attacking the Bible and it is not a wild claim that we have no clues about what Jesus and his followers and the later writers of the New Testament thought and said. We do indeed have clues. In most cases we have pretty good ideas.

So why does it matter, “for the bigger picture,” if scribes changed their manuscripts? Because it is one way out of many to show that the Bible people read and randomly cite by cherry picking verses here and there is not a perfect book handed to us by God. In other words, it is one opening among many that was/is meant to take people down the path of critical inquiry into the Bible, to show that you can’t blindly “follow” the Bible.

And once you start taking that path, if you are sincere and honest and truth-seeking – there is no turning back. Only after you start going down it do you start to realize that there are other even more significant problems with the Bible. Only when you look into these other problems do you start to realize that in fact it has contradictions, all over the map; and historical mistakes; and geographical errors; and legends; and myths. You start to realize that we don’t have eyewitness accounts of the life and teachings of Jesus’ (let alone of Moses’!) life and that the accounts we are at odds with each other. And that our sources for Jesus are decades after the fact and are not always reliable.

— Dr. Bart Ehrman, Misquoting Misquoting Jesus, April 26, 2020

Quote of the Day: “Sophisticated” Theology

sophisticated theology john loftus

My far-flung family is quite diverse.

John F. Haught is a renowned Catholic theologian who has produced a flood of erudite books.

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He has attempted, for instance, to prove that survival-of-the-fittest evolution presents a “grand drama” orchestrated by God. All the ruthless slaughter of prey by predators, all the mass starvation of desperate victims who lose their food supply, even the extinction of 99 percent of all species that ever lived — are part of “an evolutionary drama that has been aroused, though not coercively driven, by a God of infinite love,” he wrote in the Washington Post. He added: “Darwin’s ragged portrait of life is not so distressing after all. Theologically understood, biological evolution is part of an immense cosmic journey into the incomprehensible mystery of God.”

Got that? God is incomprehensible — yet theology is sure his “infinite love” spawned nature’s slaughterhouse of foxes ripping rabbits apart, sharks gashing seals, pythons suffocating pigs and the rest of the “grand drama of life.”

What evidence supports this peculiar conclusion? None — just trust theology.

That’s why I’ve decided that there is no such thing as sophisticated theology. At bottom, the issue is simple: Either supernatural spirits exist, or they don’t. Either heavens, hells, gods, devils, saviors, miracles and the rest are real, or they’re concoctions of the human imagination.

It boils down to honesty. A truthful person shouldn’t claim to know things he or she doesn’t know. Theologians are in the business of declaring “truths” that nobody possibly can prove. They do so without evidence. In contrast, an honest individual admits: I don’t know.

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Thomas Jefferson refused to let theology be taught at his new University of Virginia. He considered theological assertions to be “unintelligible abstractions . . . absolutely beyond the comprehension of the human mind.” He ridiculed the Trinity concept “that three are one, and one is three; and yet that the one is not three, and the three are not one.”

Ambrose Bierce wrote: “Theology is a thing of unreason altogether, an edifice of assumption and dreams, a superstructure without a substructure.” And legendary newspaperman H.L. Mencken opined: “There is no possibility whatsoever of reconciling science and theology, at least in Christendom. Either Jesus rose from the dead or he didn’t. If he did, then Christianity becomes plausible; if he did not, then it is sheer nonsense.”

Of course, like every human phenomenon, religion should be studied by sociologists and psychologists. But theology itself consists of assertions about spirits. I can’t imagine why universities consider it a worthy field of scholarship.

– James Haught, Freethought Now, There’s little honesty in theology, May 13, 2020

Quote of the Day: Evangelical Denial of Science Helps Fuel the Coronavirus Pandemic

katherine stewart

Donald Trump rose to power with the determined assistance of a movement that denies science, bashes government and prioritized loyalty over professional expertise. In the current crisis, we are all reaping what that movement has sown.

At least since the 19th century, when the proslavery theologian Robert Lewis Dabney attacked the physical sciences as “theories of unbelief,” hostility to science has characterized the more extreme forms of religious nationalism in the United States. Today, the hard core of climate deniers is concentrated among people who identify as religiously conservative Republicans. And some leaders of the Christian nationalist movement, like those allied with the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, which has denounced environmental science as a “Cult of the Green Dragon,” cast environmentalism as an alternative — and false — theology.

This denial of science and critical thinking among religious ultraconservatives now haunts the American response to the coronavirus crisis.

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By all accounts, President Trump’s tendency to trust his gut over the experts on issues like vaccines and climate change does not come from any deep-seated religious conviction. But he is perfectly in tune with the religious nationalists who form the core of his base. In his daily briefings from the White House, Mr. Trump actively disdains and contradicts the messages coming from his own experts and touts as yet unproven cures.

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It is fair to point out that the failings of the Trump administration in the current pandemic are at least as attributable to its economic ideology as they are to its religious inclinations. When the so-called private sector is supposed to have the answer to every problem, it’s hard to deal effectively with the very public problem of a pandemic and its economic consequences. But if you examine the political roots of the life-threatening belief in the privatization of everything, you’ll see that Christian nationalism played a major role in creating and promoting the economic foundations of America’s incompetent response to the pandemic.

For decades, Christian nationalist leaders have lined up with the anti-government, anti-tax agenda not just as a matter of politics but also as a matter of theology. Ken Blackwell of the Family Research Council, one of the Christian right’s major activist groups, has gone so far as to cast food stamps and other forms of government assistance for essential services as contrary to the “biblical model.” Limited government, according to this line of thinking, is “godly government.”

When a strong centralized response is needed from the federal government, it doesn’t help to have an administration that has never believed in a federal government serving the public good. Ordinarily, the consequences of this kind of behavior don’t show up for some time. In the case of a pandemic, the consequences are too obvious to ignore.

— Katherine Stewart, The New York Times, The Road to Coronavirus Hell Was Paved by Evangelicals, March 27, 2020

Quote of the Day: Dear Evangelical Pastors, This is no Time for Civil Disobedience

james ellis iii

When municipalities began encouraging social distancing of at least six feet and capping attendance numbers for public gatherings, alongside other decisions of closure or limitation, many churches quickly turned to congregant-free video broadcasting of worship services or even drive-in-movie style worship in their parking lots. Other congregations – to the chagrin of many, both Christian and not – continued meeting in-person as scheduled, emphatic that they were simply going to trust God.

“My goodness gracious, if the people of God cannot display wisdom, resilience and calm, then who will?”

For me, the theological problem here is imagining that we are in some way doing God a favor when gathering face-to-face in Jesus’ name, as we normally do, for worship, Bible study and discipleship groups. Something is hugely awry when for the public good (which includes our congregations since they, too, work and live “in public”) and over a temporary period, postponing physical gatherings jars us so. It is as if we believe a mystical, magic medicine is produced through our corporate worship or that God isn’t the infinitely capable caretaker that Scripture attests, which renders, then, 10 or 11 o’clock Sunday mornings as the only time that heaven is open for business.

Frankly, it makes us, as Christians, look seriously out to lunch (to put it kindly). Believe me, I understand that cognitive dissonance during trying times is very real. We may feel like we are living in a movie because what is real still doesn’t feel that it should be. We can’t see the forest for the trees. I get it. But this is no time for civil disobedience, but rather for us to turn with confidence to the God we say we believe in.

— James Ellis III, Director of Student Ministries at Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia, Canada, Baptist News Global, March 25, 2020

Quote of the Day: Only Science Can Save Us from Coronavirus

betty anyanwu akeredolu

Indeed, Coronavirus has humbled the world’s religions and Nigerians whose lives depend on praying and fasting for miracles to happen in this digital world of science and technology.

When I said that I was more than convinced that religion is man-made and a bastion of sexism, which has subjugated women, festered gender inequality, stifled progressive thinking, retarded development and invariably added little or no value to our lives, I was called unprintable names.

 I remain unshakeable with my conviction.

This virus has proved me right, to a large extent. Nigerians, in particular, have invested so much in religion that amounted to nothing. Period!

Now that a deadly virus is ravaging the world, where do we look up to? Science or religion? It is glaring that the foreign religions over which we are killing ourselves in Nigeria have failed the world in this season of anomie and only science can save mankind.

Betty Anyanwu-Akeredolu, wife of Nigerian Ondo State Governor, March 21, 2020

Quote of the Day: Evangelical Francis Collins Speaks Out About the Coronavirus

dr francis collins

It’s [Coronavirus] very serious. This is a virus that spreads extremely quickly; it is so transmissible even by people who have no symptoms but who have gotten exposed and are carrying it around. … It’s a more serious disease than the flu, just in terms of its consequences. It is a respiratory illness; it gets to the lungs, and that is the greatest source of concern, and particularly for older people and people with chronic diseases.

“We estimate now that the mortality rate from this particular virus is probably in the neighborhood of 1 or 2%, and that is 10 times higher than influenza, so you can quickly see why we are taking this so seriously. … We are facing something we have not seen in my lifetime.

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This is a great moment for Christians to be in this space of recognizing that we have a responsibility for those who particularly need that support, for those who are most vulnerable. In this case, it’s people with other medical issues or the elderly. It’s up to us to help protect them.

We are called to be strong and courageous. We are also called to be people of generosity, and of willingness to try to put ourselves out there to help others.”

— Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, COVID-19 Mortality Rate Is Probably 10 Times Higher Than the Flu, March 19, 2020

Maybe Evangelical conspiracy theorists will listen to one of their own? Dare we hope? I like the fact that Collins focused on meeting the social/temporal needs of others. No appeal to believers to use the Coronavirus Pandemic as an “opportunity” to evangelize unbelievers.

Quote of the Day: Christian Deconversion Stories Making a Difference Among Evangelicals

alisa childers

Every time we turn around there is yet another deconversion story being proffered as the newest ex-evangelical smoking gun. The most recent—and arguably most influential—one has come from entertainers and YouTube sensations Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal of the Good Mythical Morning channel and Ear Biscuits podcast.

Rhett and Link have grown their brand performing hilarious satirical songs and engaging in zany stunts such as duct-taping themselves together, playing wedgie-hangman, crushing glow sticks in a meat-grinder, and flinging bags of dog feces at one another’s faces. With guest appearances on The TODAY Show, Live with Kelly, and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, their stars have been rising for the past few years, swelling their net worth to an estimated $23 million. They were also Christians, former missionaries, and Campus Crusade (now Cru) staff members.

When they each recorded videos walking fans through their spiritual-deconstruction stories in February, it shot through the internet like a bolt of lightning. Over the course of a few days, social-media newsfeeds became inundated with hot takes, responses, disagreements, and praise for the comedy duo. The comment sections of their Reddit, Facebook, and YouTube pages reveal that their stories inspired many atheists and touched the hearts of some folks who experienced similar deconversion journeys, describing the videos as “beautiful,” “candid,” and “vulnerable.”

Several people reached out to me personally, including pastors who reported that the faith of several kids in their youth groups was rocked by the broadcasts, leaving them shaken and doubting. After all, when someone is conversant in apologetics and theology, knows his Bible, and can anticipate my suspicions and objections, it’s difficult to simply pass him off as someone who never really understood Christianity. Blend that with Rhett and Link’s magnetic personalities, and it’s no wonder the faith of many Christians has been unsettled.

The stories themselves weren’t so different from others that have lit up social media over the past few years. For Rhett, it started with questions relating to science, the age of the earth, and evolution. It morphed into doubts surrounding biblical reliability, the historicity of the resurrection, and the general idea of hell and judgment. But as both Rhett and Link recounted, there was something brewing underneath the intellectual questions. They both felt a deep discomfort with biblical sexual ethics, which they perceived to oppress women and their LGBTQ+ friends.

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This brings us to the salient question. How can two guys who make a living as YouTube personalities go from making possum corndogs one day to throwing 2,000 years of Christian history under the bus the next? Why were so many people rattled and even persuaded by them? Could it be that the cultural influences driving these deconstruction stories needs to be re-examined, rather than Christianity itself? [Or maybe, just maybe, the deconverted have pulled back the curtain only to find out that the Wizard is a mere man or a construct of the human imagination. Nah, it’s easier to blame deconversions on cultural influences instead. Keep telling yourself that, Ms. Childers.)

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The sad reality is that, for the deconverted, disbelief isn’t sufficient. These apostles of unbelief are on a mission to help others deconstruct with the same evangelistic zeal they learned from their previous tribe.[Yes, we are. The difference being, of course, we have traveled both sides of the road. That’s what makes deconversion stories deadly to faith. We know where the dead bodies are buried.]

Alisa Childers, Let’s Deconstruct a Deconversion Story: The Case of Rhett and Link, March 1, 2020

Quote of the Day: The “Angry” Atheist

angry atheist

Karen, the Rock Whisperer, recently left the following comment on the post titled Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Atheists are Joyless and Angry:

I’m not joyless, but at the moment I’m pretty angry, Mr. Sorensen. The orange nutjob you and your people elected as our current US president is transparently evil, and has set about ruining the country as fast as he can along with the equally evil senators your people have elected, and your equally evil congresspeople who fortunately don’t have a majority right now.

I’m angry that you want to deny civil rights to me and other women, in total disregard of our bodily autonomy. I’m angry that your people latch onto pseudoscience as a justification for denying us medical benefits (access to birth control and abortion) when other medical benefits are covered.

I’m angry that you want to deny civil rights to my LGBTQ+ friends, and everyone else in this country who flies under that wide label, because some Bronze Age tribe had issues with their members engaging in same-sex relations that might be considered spiritual acts by neighboring religions.

I’m angry that you consider cruel, torturous treatment of people attempting to enter this country, including and especially children, a good idea.

I’m angry that your religion encourages xenophobia in utter defiance of its own holy book, and you have the political might to spread xenophobia in our country.

I’m angry that you and your people consistently vote for, and encourage, the destruction of whatever fragile social service safety net is left in this country. People who are poor, old, disabled…they mean nothing to you, and you’d like nothing more than to punish them for their own existence, instead of supporting them and helping them become the best contributors to society that they can be.

So, yes, I’m angry, Mr. Sorensen. But it isn’t anger directed at your probably nonexistent deity, as much as you wish it were. It is anger directed at you and your co-religionists, who are doing your best to destroy the most lives you can in the shortest period of time. There are days when I truly wish there were a Hell. But when you ended up there, and asked Jesus when it was that you’d denied basic care to him, rather than answering you as the Bible story indicates I suspect he’d just cover his face with his hands. Sometimes even deities might run out of words in the face of utter, carefully cultivated, obtuseness.

Quote of the Day: Fear Drove President Trump’s Acquittal

donald trump

In the United States Senate, like in many spheres of life, fear does the business.

Think back to the fall of 2002, just a few weeks before that year’s crucial midterm elections, when the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq was up for a vote. A year after the 9/11 attacks, hundreds of members of the House and the Senate were about to face the voters of a country still traumatized by terrorism.

Senator Patty Murray, a thoughtful Democrat from Washington State, still remembers “the fear that dominated the Senate leading up to the Iraq war.”

“You could feel it then,” she told me, “and you can feel that fear now” — chiefly among Senate Republicans.

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Fear has a way of bending us.

Late in the evening on day four of the trial I saw it, just 10 feet across the aisle from my seat at Desk 88, when Mr. Schiff told the Senate: “CBS News reported last night that a Trump confidant said that Republican senators were warned, ‘Vote against the president and your head will be on a pike.’” The response from Republicans was immediate and furious. Several groaned and protested and muttered, “Not true.” But pike or no pike, Mr. Schiff had clearly struck a nerve. (In the words of Lizzo: truth hurts.)

Of course, the Republican senators who have covered for Mr. Trump love what he delivers for them. But Vice President Mike Pence would give them the same judges, the same tax cuts, the same attacks on workers’ rights and the environment. So that’s not really the reason for their united chorus of “not guilty.”

For the stay-in-office-at-all-cost representatives and senators, fear is the motivator. They are afraid that Mr. Trump might give them a nickname like “Low Energy Jeb” and “Lyin’ Ted,” or that he might tweet about their disloyalty. Or — worst of all — that he might come to their state to campaign against them in the Republican primary. They worry:

“Will the hosts on Fox attack me?”

“Will the mouthpieces on talk radio go after me?”

“Will the Twitter trolls turn their followers against me?”

My colleagues know they all just might. There’s an old Russian proverb: The tallest blade of grass is the first cut by the scythe. In private, many of my colleagues agree that the president is reckless and unfit. They admit his lies. And they acknowledge what he did was wrong. They know this president has done things Richard Nixon never did. And they know that more damning evidence is likely to come out.

So watching the mental contortions they perform to justify their votes is painful to behold: They claim that calling witnesses would have meant a never-ending trial. They tell us they’ve made up their minds, so why would we need new evidence? They say to convict this president now would lead to the impeachment of every future president — as if every president will try to sell our national security to the highest bidder.

I have asked some of them, “If the Senate votes to acquit, what will you do to keep this president from getting worse?” Their responses have been shrugs and sheepish looks.

They stop short of explicitly saying that they are afraid. We all want to think that we always stand up for right and fight against wrong. But history does not look kindly on politicians who cannot fathom a fate worse than losing an upcoming election. They might claim fealty to their cause — those tax cuts — but often it’s a simple attachment to power that keeps them captured.

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— U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown, The New York Times, In Private, Republicans Admit They Acquitted Trump Out of Fear, February 5, 2020

Bruce Gerencser