Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Final Objections 18–20

This is the final post in my series of responses to the pamphlet by Chaz Bufe called 20 Reasons to Abandon Christianity. The first in the series can be found here.

(The text in blue is from Mr. Bufe's pamphlet. I have used ellipses to show where I have condensed the original.)

18. The Bible is not a reliable guide to Christ's teachings. Mark, the oldest of the Gospels, was written at least 30 years after Christ's death, and the newest of them might have been written more than 200 years after his death. These texts have been amended, translated, and re-translated so often that it's extremely difficult to gauge the accuracy of current editions—even aside from the matter of the accuracy of texts written decades or centuries after the death of their subject. This is such a problem that the Jesus Seminar, a colloquium of over 200 Protestant Gospel scholars mostly employed at religious colleges and seminaries, undertook in 1985 a multi-year investigation into the historicity of the statements and deeds attributed to Jesus in the New Testament. They concluded that only 18% of the statements and 16% of the deeds attributed to Jesus had a high likelihood of being historically accurate. So, in a very real sense fundamentalists—who claim to believe in the literal truth of the Bible—are not followers of Jesus Christ; rather, they are followers of those who, decades or centuries later, put words in his mouth.

I do not have the time or the inclination to develop my own detailed response to this common objection. Here are several good replies:

The Jesus Seminar is not a collection of objective scholars:

A group of secularized theologians and secular academics went seeking a secular Jesus, and they found him! They think they found him, but, in fact, they created him.
Birger A. Pearson
Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies
University of California, Santa Barbara

I have my own problems with fundamentalists, but it is not because they gullibly believe that Jesus said words that were "put in his mouth" after the fact. My problem is that they don't take those words seriously enough.

There are plenty of "outs" for people who do not want to acknowledge Jesus as God. But anyone who claims that the gospel accounts are completely unreliable is intellectually dishonest.

19. The Bible, Christianity's basic text, is riddled with contradictions. There are a number of glaring contradictions in the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments, and including some within the same books.

Since Mr. Bufe did not take the time to mention any of these "glaring contradictions," I won't take the time to address specific occurrences of these apparent contradictions. Instead, I want to make some general observations here.

  • It is wrong to expect the biblical record to follow our modern ideas of "accuracy." (This is another problem I have with fundamentalists.) The authors cannot be faulted for not doing something they never intended to do.
  • The biblical record has the kind of "variety" of data that one would expect in an account of things that really happened. Eyewitness accounts that agree in every detail are obviously manufactured.
  • Many of these "glaring contradictions" have reasonable explanations. Some are textual variants that were introduced in the transmission of the manuscripts.
  • None of these supposed contradictions alters in any way any significant doctrine of Christianity.

20. Christianity borrowed its central myths and ceremonies from other ancient religions. The ancient world was rife with tales of virgin births, miracle-working saviors, tripartite gods, gods taking human form, gods arising from the dead, heavens and hells, and days of judgment. In addition to the myths, many of the ceremonies of ancient religions also match those of that syncretic latecomer, Christianity.

This is an example of the logical fallacy of false cause. If Christianity is true, then it would not be unreasonable to expect that there would be hints of its basic truths in "false religions." C. S. Lewis cited these "reflections" of the Christian story as compelling evidence that Christianity was the "true myth" behind all the other stories.

A Final Word: These are but some of the major problems attending Christianity, and they provide overwhelming reasons for its abandonment. (Even if you discount half, two-thirds, or even three-quarters of these arguments, the conclusion is still irresistible.)

I would agree that there are good reasons for abandoning Christianity, but none of them are based upon historical difficulties in the Bible or sociological problems inherent in Christianity. The best reason to reject Christianity is to avoid having to submit to any higher authority. This is the real obstacle to faith.

Here is the honest confession of a candid atheist:

For myself, as, no doubt, for most of my contemporaries, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation. The liberation we desired was simultaneously liberation from a certain political and economic system and liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom; we objected to the political and economic system because it was unjust. The supporters of these systems claimed that in some way they embodied the meaning (a Christian meaning, they insisted) of the world. There was one admirably simple method of confuting these people and at the same time justifying ourselves in our political and erotic revolt: We could deny that the world had any meaning whatsoever.
Aldous Huxley, Ends and Means, 273

Pastor Rod

"Helping you become the person God created you to be"

PS: This is my first post using Microsoft Word 2007. It's not perfect, but it's an improvement.

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