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Tag: Quote of the Day

Quote of the Day: Why So Many New Testament Textual Critics are Evangelicals

bart ehrman

Here’s a good question about why so many New Testament textual critics (those who study the manuscripts of the New Testament) are evangelical Christians.

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The interesting thing about the discipline is precisely what this questioner is suggesting. Evangelical Christians who believe the Bible is the inspired word of God down to its very words make up the majority of New Testament textual critics. By a (very) large margin. And so the question is why?

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So why do evangelicals so frequently go that route?  I would say that, as a rule, it is for one of three reasons.

First: theology.  It is precisely because of their theological convictions that many evangelicals want to devote their lives to knowing what the NT authors originally wrote.  If the original words of the Bible were inspired by God, then it is important to know what those words were.  Scribes occasionally (OK, often) changed the words.  But who cares what some anonymous scribe thought or wanted to say?  We want to know what GOD wanted to say!  And so we have to figure out which words come from scribal changes and which from God.  We can throw out the former and will revere the latter.  Any time a verse is worded in different ways, only one of those ways is original (assuming the original itself wasn’t lost along the way, so that *all* we have are various kinds of changes); we need to figure out which one it is.  For me, personally, this was THE MAIN REASON I wanted to become a textual critic.

Second: apologeticsThe term “apologetics comes, as you might suspect, from the word “apology,” which in this context decidedly does not mean saying you’re sorry.   Apology in its technical sense refers to a “reasoned defense” of a view  – say an ideological perspective, a philosophical position, or a religious claim.  Christian apologists make, or try to make, intellectual arguments for their religious views, trying to show, for example, what the actual evidence is that Jesus was really born of a virgin or raised from the dead, or that the human race was created not evolved, or that the Bible is the word of God without mistake.  In some periods of Christian intellectual history – including right now, as we speak – one reason often adduced for doubting that the Bible is the inspired word of God is that it doesn’t seem to be all that important, or even plausible, that God inspired the words of the Bible if we don’t’ know what the words are.  Evangelicals who go into textual criticism often do so in order to be able to show that we know the original words and that therefore there is no reason for doubt: we have the very Word of God.

Third: professional career.  Graduate students in New Testament studies, just like graduate students in any academic discipline, almost always do a PhD because they want to have high-level credentials and respect from colleagues in what they do.  There are very few disciplines in which a person’s theological views create real and serious difficulties.  If you are a Mormon, or Buddhist, or observant Jew – nothing about your personal religious views should have much bearing on your ability to do a PhD in physics, or anthropology, or French literature.  Your views do not prevent you from accepting the widely held premises of your discipline.

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The problem is especially intense, though, in the (much smaller) field of New Testament studies. There are certain assumptions, views, ideas, approaches, methods that simply do not work well with conservative evangelical understandings of the Bible.  If you think the Bible is without mistake of any kind, it is very difficult to engage in the kind of critical study of the New Testament that is promoted in research universities and non-Christian colleges (whether Princeton or Florida State or Appalachian State University, or Swarthmore, or Kenyon College or … or pick your secular school….) – work that admits that Paul may not have written Colossians, or that John may not be historically accurate, or that Luke has a different view of salvation from Mark, or that many of the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels are based on oral traditions that were altered over the years.   And that makes it difficult for evangelicals to get a PhD in many areas within New Testament studies.  But not all.

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A problem arises only when this kind of work gets turned on its head into some kind of “apology” for evangelical causes, as if showing what an author probably wrote originally has anything to do with whether what he wrote is true or not.  Textual criticism cannot say a single thing about the truth claims of an author’s text, about whether he was right or wrong.  It can only (try to) show what the author originally wrote.  People who claim that knowing what an author wrote somehow shows that what the author wrote is right (even if these people have have PhD’s in the field) are simply being duplicitous or stupid (or both).

And unfortunately, there are some of those out there, at least among the evangelical crowd, who sometimes say such crazy things as “we can trust the New Testament because we have more manuscripts than for any other ancient document.”  Good grief.   Our decision to trust an author is never based on the number of copies of his book.

— Dr. Bart Ehrman, Why Do Are So Many Textual Critics Evangelicals? July 26, 2020

Quote of the Day: Donald Trump Explains His Favorite Bible Stories

evangelical support for donald trump

Genesis: Two fools want more, better information rather than to feel blissfully ignorant all the time. They meet Tim Apple.

Exodus: Egypt, a land of very good administration, responds correctly to a series of plagues by changing nothing about its daily lives or routines.

Golden Calf: People are inexplicably punished for worshiping something shiny and fake.

Daniel: Ferocious beasts defy their duty to attack a man who has committed an offense against his ruler.

Lazarus: Very good illustration of how easy it is to recover if you put your mind to it and why nobody needs health coverage.

Job: Someone is treated almost but not quite as badly as Donald Trump gets treated every day.

Ruth: Ruth accompanies her relative Naomi to a new country in a disgraceful instance of chain migration.

Two Corinthians: There are Corinthians, and there are two of them, for sure!

Joshua and the Battle of Jericho: Very sad story about a man blowing blasts on a trumpet and damaging a wall.

Solomon: A man suggests a very good way of dealing with a disputed baby, but a nasty woman interferes.

Lot: A man’s wife does something different with herself physically, and he sort of notices after the fact.

David and Goliath: Someone makes the mistake of flinging a projectile at a heavily-armored man; they will need to come down on him hard.

Noah: This is a good, inspiring story about a wise man in a floating bunker avoiding a catastrophe, but on the other hand it is bad because he is also surrounded by animals, birds, reptiles — disgusting.

Jonah and the Whale: Bunker again, but worse.

Esther: Failed king listens to a woman about not inflicting violence on people?

Revelation: Beautiful first draft of Trump inauguration speech.

Abraham: Man confusingly remains married to the same woman for decades.

Temptation of Jesus: Man offered infinite worldly power; says no, like an idiot.

Crucifixion: Agitator gets what is coming to him.

Alexandra Petri, The Washington Post, Trump Explains His Favorite Bible Stories, June 4, 2020

Thank you to Ms. Petri for making my day. Funny stuff. 🙂

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: 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: Are Militant Secularists Trying to Take Over the United States?

Appearing on a radio show hosted by New York Roman Catholic Cardinal Timothy Dolan last week, Barr tore into church-state separation once more, this time blaming “militant secularists” for a host of problems.

“I feel today religion is being driven out of the marketplace of ideas, and there’s an organized, militant secular effort to drive religion out of our lives,” Barr said. “To me, the problem today is not that religious people are trying to impose their views on non-religious people. It’s the opposite. It’s that militant secularists are trying to impose their values on religious people, and they’re not accommodating the freedom of religion of people of faith.”

When you read something like this, you really can’t help but ask yourself a pertinent question: What planet does Barr live on?

For the past three years, the Trump administration has been laboring to turn religious freedom into an instrument of discrimination, a device to treat some people (LGBTQ folks, women, Muslims and other religious minorities, nonbelievers, etc.) as if they have second-class status.  

This administration has repeatedly sought to deny people access to contraceptives because some bosses claim it offends their religious beliefs. It has backed religious discrimination in taxpayer-funded foster care and adoption programs. It has issued rules that put the most vulnerable members of our society – the poor, the homeless, those grappling with addictions – at risk by stripping away their protections in “faith-based” programs. It has traded in crude stereotypes against Muslims and undermined their right to travel to the U.S. It has argued that government has the right to display towering crosses, the central symbol of the Christian faith, on public property, and charge the taxpayer for it. It kicked transgender people out of the military because the Religious Right doesn’t like them. It supports immersing houses of worship in partisan politics. It has worked to end reproductive freedoms. It told the Supreme Court that taxpayers should be compelled to support religious groups and religious schools.

The administration did these things – yet we’re to believe that “militant secularists” are the problem? That “militant secularists” are the ones trying to force their views onto people?

Please.

Barr, like his boss Trump, is a master gaslighter. He repeatedly asserts that things are the opposite of the way they really are. In his strange world, up is down, black is white and you can’t believe the evidence of your own eyes. 

Key to this is Barr’s use of words – and how he defines them. To Christian nationalists, “militant” is anyone who dares to stand up to them and expose their theocratic agenda for the freedom-crushing miasma that it is. And a “secularist” to Barr and his allies must be someone who hates religion.

— Rob Boston, We Are All ‘Militant Secularists’ Now, February 3, 2020

Quote of the Day: The Rising Tide of Religious Indifference

I’m sure that you’ve experienced it before; that passionless, detached “meh” you receive in response after asking someone questions about their belief in God. Those crucial questions to philosophy, faith, and the meaning of life, which you ponder and return to over and again, are dismissed with the kind of disinterest typically experienced by a policy specialist at the IRS when they explain what they do for a living. As a committed believer, you happily engage someone with the kind of dialogue that stirs your mind to explore the most significant questions human beings can ask. But, to your surprise, the person is wholly indifferent to the topic. You ask, “Do you believe in God?” And they respond with a deflating grin and shrug-of-the-shoulders reminiscent of The Office’s Jim Halpert deadpanning Camera 2 after his buffoon manager, Michael Scott, asked him a ridiculous question.

Sometimes, the disinterest comes from the kind of person you would expect—an agnostic who, after years of oscillating between religious and areligious beliefs, has finally thrown their hands in the air and given up. Other times, the disinterest comes from the kind of person you would least expect—a self-described religious person who, for one reason or another, is utterly indifferent to the very foundations upon which their worldview was constructed. Either way, the result is the same. In our culture, there seems to be a growing apathy toward theism. In conjunction with declining religious service attendance and the rising of the religiously unaffiliated has come a new challenge to evangelism. It is no longer the pugnacious New Atheism at center stage, but something far less passionate—apatheism. This nonchalant attitude toward God is more challenging to evangelism than religious pluralism, agnosticism, and atheism. For this reason, the phenomenon should be taken seriously. Evangelicals ought to examine and understand it for the sake of the gospel. The more that we understand apatheism, the better equipped we are to engage it.

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Apatheism—a portmanteau of apathy and theism—is, in part, the belief that God and questions related to his existence and character are irrelevant. These God questions (GQs) are the big ones: Does God exist? Can we know if God exists? If so, how does he reveal himself, and what is he like? What is the nature of his person and character? And what does God do? If God does not exist, then what does his non-existence mean? Apatheism is wholly indifferent to these questions.

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So, why apatheism? Why is it that affections toward God today in Western society are so inert? It is difficult to imagine that a person could be so apathetic five centuries ago. Back then, questions about God’s province over salvation and moral duty dominated the public imagination. Everyone asked these questions because they believed that ultimate meaning is found beyond humanity and nature. Religion, especially the Christian faith, offered answers to questions of meaning, so GQs were very important. But something changed. Western society began to separate itself from religion or, at least, no longer aligned with a particular religion. This separation led to questioning whether or not God is involved in our lives (deism), if we can know God (agnosticism), or if he even exists (atheism). After a while, some people began to question the relevancy of GQs themselves, like Denis Diderot (1713–1784), who famously quipped, “It is very important not to mistake hemlock for parsley, but to believe or not believe in God is not important at all.” In short, apatheism has become possible because society has secularized.

— Kyle Beshears, The Gospel Coalition, Athens without a Statue to the Unknown God, December 4, 2019

Kyle Beshears is the teaching pastor of Mars Hill Church in Mobile, Alabama. While I don’t agree with his answers for apatheism, I did find his survey of indifference towards religion helpful. Your mileage may vary.

Quote of the Day: Why Don’t You Just “Believe?”

bart ehrman

What do you have to lose by having faith and believing that Christ was born supernaturally as a result of a virgin birth to Mary, that Christ performed miracles, that Christ died by crucifixion and came back to life from the dead, and that Christ went back into heaven in a supernatural ascension into heaven? I don’t see any downside.

I get this kind of question on occasion. Usually when someone asks it they tie it to “Pascal’s Wager.”

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The first question I would ask this person is: Are *you* able to believe something that you honestly do not think is true?

The question itself raises a much bigger issue: what does it mean to believe? Does anyone really and genuinely think that authentic faith means mouthing certain words that you don’t actually subscribe to in order to be let off the hook? Would God be convinced by that? Wouldn’t he, uh, see through it?  I assume so. So what good would it do for me to say that I believe something I don’t actually believe?

And how can I force myself to think something is true when I don’t think it is? Belief isn’t mouthing words or lying to get off the hook.

 

The second question I would ask is, for me, the real zinger: Can it really be a simple case of either/or?  Either you believe or not?  In other words, is it really a case that if you choose to believe and you’re right, you may be saved, but if you’re wrong you will be damned?   Doesn’t that assume there are only two options: believe in Christ for salvation or don’t and be damned?

That may have made sense for Pascal, who lived in a world where, for all practical purposes, there were TWO options. But what about our own world?  We don’t have two options. We have scads of them. And it is literally impossible to take them all.

That is to say:  If you want to make sure you cover your bases when it comes to salvation: WHICH religion do you follow? Suppose you decide, OK, I’ll take Pascal’s wager and decide (somehow) to believe in Christ? What if, it turns out, Christ is NOT the right option?  Or even, say, the only/best option?

In concrete terms:  what if you decide to believe in Christ and then it turns out the Muslims are right? You could be damned forever for choosing the wrong option. So how do you cover the Islamic option as well as the Christianity one? And … well …  there are lots of religions to choose from.

Even within Christianity: I know some Christians who have an entire detailed list of what you have to believe to be saved. And I know other Christians who have a *different* list. It is impossible to believe both at once, since they are at odds with one another. On a most simple level, I know different Christians who believe that if you do not belong to *their* denomination, you will be damned; and even Christians who say that you have to be baptized in *their particular church* to be saved. So what’cha gonna do?

On this logic, do you become Mormon to cover your bases? And Catholic? And Southern Baptist? And a Jehovah’s Witness? And an Independent-Bible-Believing-Hell-Fire-and-Brimstone Fundamentalist? And …. ?

— Dr. Bart Ehrman, Why Don’t You Just Believe?, December 1, 2019

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