Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Mistakes of Moses Expanded Universe: Genesis 30:25 - 31:55

This time around we find some rather odd labor negotiations, we see Jacob up to his old tricks again using sympathetic magic to make himself rich (or maybe not), we have some fun at the expense of two thousand years worth of Bible commentators, and finally we witness a treaty that stood meaningless for a millennium.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Like, We Are Never Getting Back Together. Like, Ever.

Photo credit: Clarence Ji / Foter CC BY
Who knew one could so readily find inspiration for a blog post about apostasy in the lyrics of a Taylor Swift breakup song? If the oft-repeated marketing slogan of "Christianity is a relationship" has any truth to it, then apostasy is a lot like a breakup. Maybe that's why I often find myself relating to the sentiment of breakup songs. Lines like "since you been gone, I can breathe for the first time," or "so often times it happens that we live our lives in chains and we never even know we have the key" resonate with my experience. I find this to be the case with the aforementioned T-Swizzle ditty.

Let me clarify a bit before I confuse the reader. See, on my end I hold open the possibility that some form of Christianity may indeed one day somehow seduce me to return. I admit that it seems highly unlikely, but I'm not ready to say "never." The brain is a very curious and often fickle organ, susceptible to all kinds of things. Injury, delusion, hallucination, chemical imbalance, narcotics, or any number of things can completely alter cognitive processes. Not to mention the growing list of cognitive errors everyone remains susceptible to. And who knows? Maybe some form of Christianity has it right and I will discover this and become convinced of its truth. Maybe I'll reach a point where it just doesn't matter to me whether or not it's true and I embrace some iteration of it. I consider all of those things possible. I'm talking about what the Bible says, and the Bible agrees with the sentiment expressed by Miss Swift.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Convenience and Self-flattery of Apostasy

I suspect that the very existence of apostates might be a bit of an inconvenience for Christians. Not all apostates obviously. Many fit the preferred narrative quite well. These are the folks raised in the church who "go astray" some time around adolescence. It's easy to pick on these folks because their departure often coincides with a time in their lives when they begin questioning the legitimacy of the authority figures around them and rebelling. This also happens to be a time when their hormones begin strongly leading them to engage in thoughts and behaviors that are deemed "immoral" by most Christians. They make easy targets for dismissal.

I'm sure many of these teens really do just want to cast off the shackles of moral standards and do as they please. But there are doubtless others that sincerely wrestle with and reject the faith they were raised in because they realize how intellectually untenable it is. Once their access to things like the Internet become unfettered and they begin having contact with divergent views, this process is likely accelerated. For many their rejection of Christianity is a combination of factors and not merely a simplistic desire to "fornicate with impunity."

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Complaining about the Exodus Movie

My series on the Pentateuch is plodding along rather slowly and I've still got about another twenty chapters to go before I even finish Genesis, but I'm going to take a break here and attempt a timely discussion of the first part of the book that follows it, Exodus.

You may have heard there's a film coming out this week that uses the early narrative portions of Exodus as its source material. Given the widespread promotion of the film across every platform known to man, you'd have to be living under a rock not to be aware of it. I've never been a fan of these biblical epics, with perhaps the exception of Ben Hur (1959), a film which only briefly intersects the biblical narrative.

When I was a Christian I would usually lament the lack of fidelity to the source material. Now that I'm not one, I'm mainly not a fan of the genre because the films tend to be either hugely slanted toward religious audiences or stand in some kind of half-way point of being critical while still conforming to the expectations of those same religious audiences because money. I suspect Ridley Scott's film will sit solidly in the latter category, though I'm willing to be proven wrong. I'd like to be able to enjoy these films the way I enjoy films like Clash of the Titans (the Ray Harryhausen version, of course), but until such time as the culture I live in can view Yahweh, Moses and Samson the same way they currently view Zeus, Odysseus and Heracles, I don't think I'm going to be able to truly enjoy a film adaptation of a biblical narrative. That's just me. Your mileage my vary.

The Ridley Scott film has already been criticized for its portrayal of events involving specific ethnic groups without casting people in the principal roles that even remotely resemble folks from those ethnic groups. That will not be what many Christians will criticize, however. I'm going to go ahead and address some criticisms from some in the Christian community. The first is the standard complaint that the film is not faithful to "biblical history." The second is how many will be quite put off by the way the deity is portrayed in the film. Some of the early reviews I've read have mentioned that Yahweh is represented by an eleven-year-old boy and that the decisions and actions of the deity are similarly immature and, to borrow Christian Bale's term, "mercurial."

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Boxers of Christianity

Deanna, a guest poster over at Neil’s Godless in Dixie blog, has an excellent post up about the narcissism of preaching. She paints an all-too-common portrait of members of the clergy. I have trouble finding fault with it. My only counterpoint would be to suggest something I’m sure she’d have no problem admitting. That is that not all preachers completely fit that mold. Certainly some folks will be able to think of exceptions to many of the otherwise spot-on characterizations she puts forward. The take-away for me is that this particular career path undeniably shapes and attracts certain people that find great success, acclaim, honor and monetary gain as a reward for traits like narcissism and megalomania. Of course there are exceptions. There are probably some decent people in politics too. How does the system treat them, though? Who fares better?

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Mistakes of Moses Expanded Universe: Genesis 29:1-30:24

In this installment Jacob goes about acquiring a family while in the service of his uncle Laban. Herein we find an incredible feat of strength, more baffling gullibility, another warning about those tricky neighbors to the north, a curiously silent yet quite active deity, a sibling rivalry involving a uterine arms race with a couple of slave girls caught in the crossfire, the silliest excuses for names you ever did see, and we read between the lines a bit to see how good biblical writers copy, but great biblical writers steal.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Survey Says…

Ligonier Ministries recently teamed up with LifeWay to conduct a survey about the theological views of Americans with a particular focus on evangelicals. I have a few thoughts on both the survey itself and its results.

The partnership between a Reformed para-church publisher and the retail arm of the Southern Baptist Convention probably suggests something about the inroads neo-Calvinists have made within that denomination. This is no surprise, of course. Al Mohler has been in charge of the SBC’s flagship seminary (SBTS) for quite some time. Additionally, Calvinistic Baptists seem to be the only ones within that denomination who are consistently serious about theology. I might be inclined to argue that when Christian fundamentalism intersects with middle class pseudo-intellectualism, Calvinism is the meme most fit to rise to the top. It's difficult not to agree with my friend Neil who observes that it is largely just “gentrified religious extremism.”

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Presuppositional Atheism?

Once upon a time, not so long ago, I was a Presuppositionalist. I've discussed this briefly before, but having grown wary and suspect of the weaknesses of apologetic methods like Thomistic arguments and evidentialism, I turned to the seemingly-unassailable circularity offered by this “epistemology.” I just used scare quotes there because Presuppositionalism probably isn’t as much of an epistemology as it is an apologetic method (if it’s even that). The basic claim of Presuppositionalism is that the Christian understanding of reality is the only internally consistent worldview and that the propositions contained in the Protestant Bible, and implicitly the Westminsterian interpretation of those propositions, are to be taken axiomatically. All other worldviews will fail the internal scrutiny of a reductio ad absurdum.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Mistakes of Moses Expanded Universe: Genesis 28:10-22

In this installment Jacob uses a magic rock to have an encounter with the deity, he has a curious response to Yahweh's promises while setting up a worship center in the wrong place, and we attempt to peel back the curtain a bit and show what source-critical scholars have been aware of for a while now.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Elijah and the Apologist of Baal

I Kings 18:17-40
And Ahab went to meet Elijah. And it came to pass, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said unto him, “Art thou he that troubleth Israel?”

And he answered, “I have not troubled Israel; but thou, and thy father's house, in that ye have forsaken the commandments of Jehovah, and thou hast followed Baalim. Now therefore send, and gather to me all Israel unto mount Carmel, and the prophets of Baal four hundred and fifty, and the prophets of the groves four hundred, which eat at Jezebel's table.” So Ahab sent unto all the children of Israel, and gathered the prophets together unto mount Carmel. For even though this was a ridiculous request, Elijah was some kind of svengali.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Mistakes of Moses Expanded Universe: Genesis 27:1-28:9

In this installment, which we could begin calling "The Old and the Restless", Jacob continues his trickery with the help of his shifty Aramean mother; Isaac makes a careless blunder when casting a spell; Esau gets a really raw deal again because, well, Yahweh just hates him; and then all four main characters act like none of it ever happened. 

Monday, October 6, 2014

Ignore what I said about myself; you’re going to anyway

I dislike much about what professional apologist William Lane Craig does and says and that dislike extends back to well before my departure from the Christian faith. As a good, thoughtful Calvinist I found his philosophical approach to Libertarian Free Will, known as Molinism, to be highly flawed and clearly at odds with scripture and sound reasoning. I always thought he played fast and loose with the clear meaning of the texts of the Bible in order to make his evidentialist defenses of Christianity and it pissed me off. What can I say? I was an Angry Bearded Calvinist™ without the beard. Well, WLC continues to piss me off because of his disingenuousness and deliberate obfuscation and I’m not the only one.

Bart Ehrman is understandably incensed by this old post from Craig that someone must’ve brought to his attention recently. In it Craig straight up lies about Ehrman’s personal biography, claiming that it was Ehrman’s rejection of biblical inerrancy that led to his deconversion. That’s just…I can’t…no. Anyone remotely familiar with Ehrman’s story should know better, but especially someone who knows him personally and has actually directly engaged Ehrman in a pitched debate. He’s been pretty open about it. How open? Well, he wrote a friggin’ book about it. Now, in fairness to WLC, that book came out after this post. However, as Ehrman points out, the man had access to Ehrman’s email address. He could’ve just asked him. He didn’t. He just went ahead and attributed whatever motives and reasons best fit his own preconceived ideas.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Mistakes of Moses Expanded Universe: Genesis 26

Just picking up a Bible and reading chapters like this one might make a reader come away yawning. Isaac goes to the territory of the Philistines to escape a famine, lies about his wife being his sister, gets rich in the process, develops a rivalry with the locals, gets into a dispute over some wells and settles things with a treaty. When taking other passages into account, however, there are a lot of interesting discrepancies. 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Whenever I hear Christian apologetics...I reach for my Bible

It's true. And yes, I just adapted an oft-misquoted line from a Nazi play for the title of this post. I figured I'd go ahead and get Godwin out of the way from the outset.

It is my opinion that the greatest impediment to the intelligibility of the Christian faith is, in fact, its foundational set of documents. Far from being an asset, the Bible is the Achilles' heel soft underbelly of most Christian systems of belief, especially the more fundamentalist ones. It is my observation that the more reliant upon the Bible a brand of Christianity is, the more easily it is collapsed upon itself. Even brands of Christianity that aren't closely tied to it like Catholicism, Orthodox Christianity, and Mainline Liberal Protestantism largely fall victim to it as well, often via the very arguments those other denominations more closely tied to the Bible would use against them. Time and again the Bible will contain material that just completely wrecks otherwise coherent systems of Christian doctrine and often the heavy-lifting has already been done by some other group within Christianity.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Mistakes of Moses Expanded Universe: Genesis 25

In this installment Abraham dies (or does he?) but not before knocking up a concubine to the tune of six more sons, Rebekah needs divine intervention to get pregnant and immediately regrets that decision, and Yahweh hates a guy before he's even born.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Counting the Sunken Costs

"For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace."  - Luke 14:28-32
But the foundation was good...unlike Christianity
The Lucan Jesus makes a valid point here (although it doesn't really work within his larger point, but that's another story altogether). Before beginning an endeavor it is a good idea to perform an assessment and reasonably estimate whether or not you have the resources and ability to see it through. But what if you've already started building the tower and you realize it's pointless and a foolish waste of time? What if you've already attacked that king and now you realize that not only are you fighting a losing battle, but you're on the wrong side? Do you continue building? Do you keep fighting? Do you count the sunken costs? 

After announcing my departure from Christianity a pastor remarked to me that he wouldn't be so quick to cast off a faith that he had spent over twenty years actively involved in without seriously examining "the most recent scholarship" produced by people within his particular iteration of Christianity. This was part of a pitch to stall and get me to invest incalculable time going through what turned out to be a ton of additional theological and apologetic material, or as he put it “enough reading for a semester at RTS [Reformed Theological Seminary].”