Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Ten Reasons Christianity Does Not Make Sense? Part 2

This is the second in a series of posts dealing with Ten Reasons Christianity Makes No Sense. I only covered two points, and we’ll just have to see how many I get through today!

3. Jesus didn’t take away my sins.

If Jesus did take away sins, then there’s no longer such a thing as sin. If that’s true, then I don’t have to believe, and I should be saved automatically. So what’s the point?

This trades on a very particular interpretation of what it means for Jesus’ death to “take away” sins. Specifically, this assumes that Jesus’ death is both a necessary and sufficient condition for the salvation of individuals. A necessary condition of some event is a condition that must obtain in order for the event to obtain. A sufficient condition of some event is a condition that, if it obtains, results in the event. Obviously not every sufficient condition for an event is necessary for an event, and not every necessary condition is sufficient for an event. This applies because Christ’s atoning sacrifice is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for an individual’s salvation.[1] Without Christ’s death, people cannot be saved; but another necessary condition is that they place their faith in Christ. Together, we say these are jointly necessary and sufficient conditions for an individual’s salvation. In any case, this answers why someone may still be punished for their sins: if they do not appropriate the forgiveness of sins for themselves!

4. Jesus wasn’t a very nice guy.

Jesus demanded that his disciples abandon their families, and he was a narcissist. This is in contradiction to honoring one’s father and mother, and is a really awful thing to do.

This is another in a long list of evidences that New Atheists often have no idea of the cultural setting or the message of Jesus Christ. In point of fact, Jesus scolded the Pharisees for violating the Fifth Commandment (that’s the one about father and mother, for those atheists out there who did not know). But interestingly, the only times Jesus did discuss something very much like this, it was in the context of being willing to follow the Messiah. The idea of including each person’s response to the Messiah was to show that people were not really willing, after all. Consider the man who said, “Let me bury me father first, and then I’ll follow you.” Modern interpreters who are unfamiliar with the setting simply assume this means the man’s father had died, and they were going to bury the body. That would be untrue. Instead, he was wanting to stay with his father until his father became older and eventually passed away; an indeterminate amount of time. The point was not to emphasize that you shouldn’t take care of your family. The point was to expose their hearts on the issue. It’s also worth noting that the disciples did not abandon their families; they were in the house of Peter’s mother-in-law on at least one recorded occasion, and, to be honest, we have relatively little actually recorded for three years’ worth. It wouldn’t surprise me much at all if they went fishing (oh look! The Bible says they did) and used the proceeds, in part, to feed and take care of their families.

5. Jesus’ dad was really not a nice guy.

God basically said as long as you were one of his people, do whatever you want, including rape, slavery, and genocide. Also, Jesus was his own father, which is incoherent.

This is relatively easy, but only if you’ve been exposed to the scholarly material. Thus, this kind of accusation serves as evidence that the person simply isn’t widely read enough. I’ll take the points in no particular order. First, Paul Copan’s book Is God a Moral Monster? is an excellent treatment on why, very plausibly, the “wipe them out” language is Ancient Near East hyperbole, akin to our sports language of “The Bulls slaughtered the Spurs;” no one should think that the team from Chicago brutally murdered the team from San Antonio; that would be a misuse of the language. Also, ANE customs tell us that likely these towns were military outposts, not even containing women and children. Second, “slavery” is inappropriate as it relates to what actually happened. It’s more like debt-servitude of a live-in butler, as opposed to the 19th century Southern United States. And while the Old Testament laws can be explained individually, it’s worth just mentioning one relevant one: the one where a rapist is said to need to marry a woman. Why? Because in ANE culture, women were often more valued as virgins; a raped woman (besides possibly ending up with a child) would be less likely to be married off. A rapist, then, would be forced to provide for her, and she would have no obligations to him of any kind. So, when we think of marriage as this love-relationship where she has to cook and clean and have sexual relations with her rapist, we’re just anachronistically looking at the ANE culture. Finally, no orthodox Christian formulation of the Trinity claims Jesus is his Father. Either the author knows this and is being disingenuous or does not know this and literally doesn’t have a clue of what perhaps the most important doctrine in all Christian theology actually claims. Either way is bad.

Stay tuned for the next one!

[1] This is speaking philosophically, not theologically.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Ten Reasons Christianity Does Not Make Sense? Part 1

I came across an article called “Ten Reasons Why Christianity Makes No Sense,” and decided to respond (just in case there is anyone out there who might be convinced by these terrible reasons). Before I get started, I just want to get on a soapbox about something. The author wrote about her surprise about how many Internet atheist “activists” display so much “scholarliness.” This is a major problem on the popular level (Christians and atheists alike). Most people have virtually no idea what it takes for something to be “scholarly.” Hint: it’s not “what confirms my position and sounds good.” It’s more like “worthy of publication in peer-reviewed journals,” and I can tell you right now the vast majority of Internet atheists would not be able to participate. OK, let’s end that rant for now. What we’re going to do in this article is discuss each point by presenting their contention and argument as fairly as possible, and then discuss why that doesn’t make any sense. Here goes!

1.     Jesus didn’t die.

The idea here is that Jesus’ “death” was really more like a coma, since he didn’t stay dead. He just napped for three days and then vacated his tomb. If that is the case, then he’s either a zombie or else he’s completely alive. Therefore, a central fact about the Gospel seems to be false.

I suspect virtually no Christian actually believes this is a knockdown argument against the Gospel, but they may not know what precisely is wrong with it. Well, first, it begs the question against the definition of a resurrection. But more importantly, it’s scientifically and medically ignorant. The mere fact of Jesus’ resurrection doesn’t entail he wasn’t dead (in fact, as has been hinted at, the entailment is actually that he was dead). Medically, he was actually dead. It’s just bizarre that anyone would claim that the scourging, crucifixion, piercing of the side with a spear, etc. means that he wasn’t dead. In fact, comatose patients still have their hearts beating, brain activity, etc., while Jesus, from all medical and scientific indications, did not. This is the opposite of scholarly; it’s virtually anti-intellectual. The zombie comment is a throwaway line that shouldn’t trouble anyone, but lest it does, I’ll address it. The reason the zombie comment is supposed to be a problem for Christianity is the same reason it’s inapplicable. It’s supposed to be a problem because zombies are goofy, undead, mindless things that feast on flesh and all of that. But of course Jesus is not goofy, undead (in fact he is alive), mindless, and feasting on flesh. Curiously, this author is correct: Jesus is presently alive. That’s just what it means to be resurrected. So what’s the problem?

2.     Jesus didn’t have faith.

If Jesus was the Son of God, then he didn’t need faith to know these things. It’s not fair to require faith from others when you don’t have it yourself.

This, of course, is patently absurd. Jesus requires people to be his followers, but why should anyone complain that Jesus is not following himself (since no one can follow themselves)?! The point is that this isn’t a huge problem: someone might shrug their shoulders and say, “so what?” However, we can go even further. Most people recognize there are only a few things that could have happened with Jesus and the incarnation. What is most plausible is that Jesus freely laid aside the independent use of the divine attributes and relied on the Holy Spirit. In that sense, in many cases he had the same level of access (functionally) to knowledge that we do (of course not counting personal experience). But something else is troubling about the author’s claim (in the original piece): they seem to think that knowledge and faith are not compatible. But that’s just not a Christian definition of faith; that’s a new atheist definition of faith. Pop quiz: Who said the following?

            Do not believe me unless I do the works of my Father.

Give up? It was one Jesus of Nazareth (John 10:37). So I guess Jesus isn’t asking people to believe without any evidence, after all, and he plausibly did have a great and active trust in the Father, through the Spirit, to get him through life.

I’m going to go through the rest in subsequent installments, so stay tuned!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Keeping the Seventh Commandment

I know it’s been quite a while since I’ve written, and I apologize. The holidays (Thanksgiving and Christmas) as well as end of semester issues (for all of teaching, grading, and being a student) helped contribute to that. However, I’d like to pick back up where I left off: the series on the Ten Commandments. I am on the Seventh Commandment, which is “thou shalt not commit adultery.”

This commandment, like the sixth one, is in one way quite straightforward: don’t cheat on your wife, or take your neighbor’s wife. It is also considered to undergird the idea that sexual relations are made for the marital relationship. When this is considered, however, a few more applications open up. First, if the reason for the prohibition on extramarital sex is that God created sexual relationships to be an intimate act between a husband and wife, then we can see that engaging in sexual relationships outside of marriage (whether one is actually married or not) is abusing the gift that God gave. This is scandalous to the modern mind, since, for them, sex is something that exists as a tool to be used for pleasing oneself, and satisfying one’s own desires. Hence, inasmuch as society allows, or as much as they can get away with it, or as much as they can overcome their own consciences, sex is something to be pursued whenever and with whomever one desires (usually provided that the other is at least consenting, of course). But being countercultural is not itself an indication of truth or falsehood.[1] Thus, we must recognize and keep sacred the sexual intimacy that takes place between a man and a woman as intended for the marital relationship.

What about within the marital relationship? Well, remember, we were designed for intimacy between genders. Physically (and even to some degree emotionally) speaking, we aren’t designed to discriminate much. That is to say, if one is not careful, he or she can find themselves thinking about, or even engaging in, either a physical or emotional affair. This is why Jesus implores us in Matthew 5:27-32 to take our marital relationships (or lack thereof seriously), and that we are to take drastic measures to avoid submitting to lusts in one’s heart. I once had an undergraduate professor use this metaphor: you can’t always control a picture that pops into your head to tempt you. You can control if it turns into a movie. The idea is that temptations are not in and of themselves sin. However, your reaction to that temptation determines if it becomes sin.

Why should we avoid adultery? Because intimacy is designed by God to be between a man and a woman, in a marital relationship, and because we were designed to help one another in our relationship with God. This is how the seventh commandment can be kept by those who are single as well as married. In our current society, we need all the help and spiritual support we can get!

[1] Actually, in some contexts, it might be!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Mailbag: Is It Discrimination to be Against Gay 'Marriage'?

Hi Randy,

Question I hope you could help me with: There have been a few stories recently - both here in the UK and I think in the USA too - about bakers who refuse to bakes cakes for gay couples who wish to celebrate their weddings. What's your position on this? Some people say, "Well, it's freedom of religion, so the government shouldn't force Christian bakers to go against their consciences."  People on the other side, however, say "Well, you can't discriminate based on things like race , gender, and sexuality. After all, do we really think society should allow bakers to refuse to serve women and blacks?."  I also heard an atheist earlier say, "What about a baker refusing on religious grounds to bake a cake for a Bar Mitzvah or Holy Communion? Isn't that the same as refusing to bake a cake for a homosexual couple's wedding?."  I have a pretty good idea of how to answer this (e.g., the Bible condemns homosexual acts not orientation, so it's not the same as discriminating against race and gender which are in-born) but would appreciate your input.

God Bless,


Hello James,

I certainly am not qualified to answer this from a legal perspective, particularly as it relates to UK law (I just don't have the faintest idea of how it works!). I can, however, philosophically evaluate the arguments as you've represented them. Specifically, I'd want to address the argument of whether or not those wanting to get married are analogous to gender or race.

As you have pointed out, there's a difference in what the Bible addresses: in point of fact, nowhere does the Bible address "orientations" where "orientation" is something like a disposition to be attracted to the same or multiple genders. But notice something even further: "race" and "gender" are taken to be things over which one has no control. Analogously, the argument is supposed to be that one's orientation is something over which one has no control. Thus, if it is unfair to discriminate based on factors outside of one's control, then certainly homosexuals apply here too. I have a number of responses.

First, it's not clear that it's always wrong to discriminate against someone for a factor over which they have no control. Let me explain. Discriminate is one of those words that has come to take on an almost wholly negative use, but if all people mean by discriminate is "to eliminate by choice" or something equivalent then we all discriminate based on a variety of factors every single day; the vast majority of these are fairly innocuous. The WNBA presumably does not allow males to compete on the basis of their gender; high school locker rooms presumably are not co-ed, on the basis of gender (though who knows, that might begin to change!); scholarships made available for people of certain ethnic or racial origins are available to them based on their ethnicity or race, and are not available to others based on ethnicity or race; the examples can go on and on. And yet, most people don't take these to be negative examples of discrimination based on race or gender, factors over which people have no control. So if negative discrimination (the bad kind) is defined as choosing against someone for a factor over which they have no control, then all of these should be viewed as paradigmatic examples. Yet they are not. This tells us there is something over and above the standard use that makes it negative discrimination. That "over and above" factor is plausibly intent or the absence of good reasons for the discrimination. If one has good reasons for the discrimination, but intends to damage the one being chosen against, then I think negative discrimination is at work. If one has a good intent, but has no good reason for choosing against someone for a factor over which they have no control, then this is plausibly an example of negative discrimination.

Second, there is a marked difference between what one is and what one does; there is a difference between the orientation and the acting on that orientation. While the homosexual may not be able to control, and may not have caused, their same-sex attraction (though this is not at all clear, it's incidental), they do control their behavior. Thus, in the context of someone asking a Christian pastor, say, to perform a homosexual "wedding," saying "no" is not discriminating against them for a factor over which they have no control. The reasoning is plainly not, "You have a homosexual desire, therfore, I will not perform the ceremony." This is because, presumably, he wouldn't perform the ceremony even if the couple-to-be both had heterosexual desires. The factor that rules out the Christian pastor performing the "wedding" is the attempted marriage, a factor over which they have complete control. The only way to argue otherwise is to argue that no one has control over their behavior, in which case even the alleged negative discriminator has no control over his/her behavior, so that to place blame on the negative discriminator is itself negative discrimination, which seems crazy.

Third, notice that many people speak out of both sides of their mouth on this issue. For example, in contexts wholly unrelated to religious freedom and homosexual "marriages," people will use "gender" as a malleable term; that is, according to many of these same people, one can switch genders, and hence, so long as all else is equal (finances and availability of doctors, for example), gender is in fact a factor over which someone has control. Of course, I don't buy that gender as a concept is so malleable, but they do. If they do, then the prohibition on gender-based discrimination, at least in the majority of the Western world (US, Canada, UK), is based on a mistake: it is a factor over which someone has control. One must choose: either gender-based discrimination that otherwise would be marked as negative has warrant that is undercut, or else gender as a concept is not truly malleable.

Finally, I'd like to go back to the first point about negative discrimination. What is happening when the Christian, asked to provide a direct service for specifically homosexual behavior, refuses? Is it negative discrimination? Let's apply our criteria. First, does he or she have good intent? Of course, we cannot know: perhaps she does have negative intent. But it's not charitable (and it's question-begging) to assume this; it's more charitable to assume they are being sincere, unless evidence to the contrary surfaces. So she doesn't hate nor is she trying to prevent the behavior of the person; she simply intends not to be the one to perform the task (the legal status of gay "marriages" is an entirely different discussion). Second, does she exert discrimination against a person for a factor over which they have no control for no good reason? No, for at least two reasons. First, the gay "marriage" to be is a behavior, and hence a factor over which they do in fact have control. Second, she has a good overriding reason not to perform the task: her conscience, informed by her religious beliefs, preclude her from taking part in the task.

So, her reason for not performing the task is not, "You are homosexuals," but rather, "My religious beliefs preclude me from taking direct part in a homosexual 'wedding,' because marriage is between one man and one woman; and this is a homosexual 'wedding,' not between one man and one woman." Note the overarching reason has only implications for homosexual behavior; it is not itself about homosexual behavior. Her religious beliefs include that marriage is between one man and one woman, and thus the discrimination is not about homosexual behaviors, but rather is an implication from other religious beliefs. This can be seen in two aspects. Suppose the woman bakes cakes. In the first instance, a homosexual comes in and orders a cake for his partner's birthday. She disapproves of his lifestyle, but makes the cake. Why? Because she's not an active participant in something that violates her religious beliefs (assuming she thinks celebrating birthdays is OK); the actions that her religious beliefs would imply to be negative are not directly related to her actions in making the cake. In the second instance, a man walks in and announces he needs a wedding cake--five of them, in fact--one for each of the women he's marrying in a ceremony. She refuses, even though the man is a heterosexual involved in a heterosexual reason, for precisely the same reason she refuses to make the homosexual wedding cake! This last part is enough for me to believe that there's just no negative discrimination going on.

God Bless,

Randy Everist