Showing posts from January, 2006

Luigi Cascioli's frivolous claims in the Italian Jesus lawsuit

It had to happen. I am being sucked into the discussing what may well be the most worthless lawsuit in the history of mankind due to the unending press coverage. In case you haven't been following the story, Italian atheist, Luigi Cascioli, has sued the Roman Catholic church (and one of its local priests) for speaking about Jesus Christ as if he were (*gasp*) a real historical person when, as Sr. Cascioli's suit says, these "facts that are really just inventions." To its credit, the court sought to dismiss the case but finally set a hearing for last Friday.

I have taken the time to review some of the papers from Sr. Cascioli's website, and I have to say that I am not impressed. He has posted some of the pleadings(?!?) from the lawsuit on his site, and I think that some pertinent facts need to be pointed out.

First, what exactly is his claim? His complaint reads, in pertinent part:

After long and deep studies consisting of (and not only) textual exegesis of the Old…

On judging witnesses

If he does not mind, I would like to build on BK's excellent post from yesterday on Jesus' self identification as God. I agree entirely with him that Jesus' self identification as God is central the Christian assertion, but there is more: namely, the witnesses to Jesus' life here on earth. If Jesus did not say He was God, then we are left with an even greater puzzle. After all, what would motivate people to ascribe divinity to a man who m they knew had been crucified (the worst form of death in that society at that time)?

There is a wonderful exchange in the book/movie "The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe" where Susan and Peter are talking with the professor. They relate Lucy's "impossible" story of another world found through a wardrobe. The professor listens intently, thinks about it for a long time, and then the conversation went thus:

Professor: "How do you know that your sister's story is not true?"
Susan: "Oh but.…

The Importance of Jesus' Self-Identification as God

All too often, I have entered a discussion with skeptics in which I have sought to defend the claim that Jesus is God. One thing that I always mention is that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God. Of course, this brings the same reaction from every skeptic (in varying language): "You cannot use the claim that Jesus is God to prove that Jesus is God -- that's circular reasoning." At least three things need to be pointed out in response to this assertion.

First, circular reasoning (or better known as "begging the question", aka petitio principii) is an argument that looks something like this:

Syllogism A:
A because B.
B because A
To give an example of begging the question straight out of the skeptics' argument handbook,

Syllogism B:
God exists because the Bible says so.
The Bible can be trusted because God exists.
In this type of argument, no argument exists because the proof of A is founded on B, but the proof of B is founded on A. As such, if the evidence for B is A,…

Heaven -- U2's where the streets have no name

I want to run
I want to hide
I want to tear down the walls
That hold me inside
I want to reach out
And touch the flame
Where the streets have no name-- Bono, U2, "Where the Streets have no Name"
Regardless of anyone's personal like or dislike of their music, there is no denying that U2 is one of the premiere rock and roll bands of all time. Part of their success is fueled by the great lyrics of frontman and one of Time's 2005 Person of the Year, Bono. Bono has worked diligently on helping the poor of the world, and his efforts are fueled by his belief in the person of Jesus Christ. As he told Christianity Today Magazine:

Christ teaches that God is love. What does that mean? What it means for me: a study of the life of Christ. Love here describes itself as a child born in straw poverty, the most vulnerable situation of all, without honor. I don't let my religious world get too complicated. I just kind of go: Well, I think I know what God is. God is love, and as much as I …

New Additions to the Cadre Site

There have been some good additions to the Christian Cadre site over the holidays through January. You can check for updates at the What's New section.

Manchester Passion -- Another modern Gospel retelling using New Wave songs

Just a few days ago, I wrote a brief blog about the new South Africa movie entitled "Son of God" that seeks to retell the life of Christ in a modern setting. Apparently independently, the BBC has now announced that it will do its own modern retelling of the story of Jesus, but instead of being set in South Africa, the setting will be Manchester, England. Moreover, the film will be backed using songs by New Wave musicians such as the Smiths, New Order and the Buzzcocks.

While I had some reservations about the South African movie, I have even more reservations about this "Manchester Passion." It is not due to a lack of love for the music. I have a couple of Smiths albums in my collection, and several New Order albums ("Shellshock" is one of my favorite songs). Thus, my concern is not the result of being a fuddy-duddy about music. Rather, my concern is actually over which songs will be used and the context of their use.

The BBC press release is pretty innocu…

The Assumption of Moses

In an earlier post, Theologician questioned Richard Carrier's use of the so-called Assumption of Moses as apparently referenced by Clement, to advocate his "two body" theory. Theologician correctly notes that although Mr. Carrier claims that it refers to Moses having "two bodies," the actual excerpt from Clement only refers to one body. Moses' body is seen on earth while one person, gifted with spiritual sight, sees Moses ascending into heaven. As Theologician notes, this simply confirms what we already know, many Jews believed that the spirit survived death and awaited the resurrection of the body in an intermediate spiritual state.

Stephen Carr, however, apparently believes that the Assumption of Moses must be referring to two bodies, despite the fact that only one body is mentioned. This has raised the question of just what is the Assumption of Moses and what did it say about Moses' body. Unfortunately, the version of the Assumption of Moses, i…

Some problems with defining God

By God I understand a being absolutely infinite, i.e., a substance consisting of an infinity of attributes, of which each one expresses an eternal and infinite essence.-- Baruch Spinoza
This month's God or Not Carnival's topic is "Definition of God." I find efforts to define God to be generally a waste of time for various reasons. To understand my reasoning, we need to be clear on the definition of "definition". According to Merriam-Webster's On-line Dictionary, "definition" is "a statement expressing the essential nature of something." With that understanding, here are some of the reasons I have difficulty with seeking a "definition of God."

First, the definition of God at which one arrives is often colored initially by the thinker's theological base. For example, if I were an atheist, the definition of God that I would devise would be rather simple: "God is a fictional being that is treated by many religious pe…

Jesus the Revolutionary -- the Son of Man film

In its effort to be controversial, Hollywood has been unable to resist being somewhat liberal in their treatment of the person of Jesus. One of the more notable mistreatments was The Last Temptation of Christ which, if I recall correctly, had Jesus tempted about having sexual relations with Mary (never mind that according to the Bible, Jesus said looking at a woman with lust is a sin). Soon upcoming will be The Da Vinci Code (which I am in the process of reading -- dull, dull, dull) which, as seems to be well-known, portrays a secret group which knows the secret life of Jesus -- that he actually had married Mary Magdalene who was pregnant with his child, etc., etc.

At the same time, there have been at least a couple of films that have come out of Hollywood that have attempted to be fair in their treatment of Jesus as seen in the Bible. Among the more notable in this group are such movies as The Greatest Story Ever Told (even though I hated Max Von Sydow's portrayal of Jesus as a di…

Is Richard Carrier Wrong about The Assumption of Moses?

In ch. 5 of The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave, Richard Carrier seeks to argue that Paul’s conception of the resurrection body of Jesus was a newly created body, not continuous with his earthly body. In the beginning of a section on the diversity of Jewish beliefs, he tells us that “at least one Jewish text imagines two bodies for Moses, one in a grave and one in heaven". (p. 107) He cites book VI of the Stromata by Clement of Alexandria:

When Moses was taken up to heaven, Joshua saw him twice: one Moses with the angels, and one on the mountains, honored with burial in the ravines.(Stromata of course wrote in the late second century. In a footnote, Carrier tells us that this passage about Moses is believed to trace back to the first century pseudepigraphon The Assumption of Moses. Aside from brief mentions in Clement, a quotation in Jude 9, and Gelasius’ Historia Ecclesiastica, the original text of The Assumption is now lost to us.

The extent to which Carri…

Is Richard Carrier Wrong About What the Herodians Believed?

In a recent post, I pointed out that Richard Carrier, in his chapter in The Empty Tomb, erroneously concluded that the Sadducees did not believe in angels. In that same chapter, Mr. Carrier also appears to get it wrong about the Herodians. According to Carrier, “there was even a sect called the Herodians, who appear to have believed Herod the Great was the Christ.” The puprose of the reference is apparently to show just how religiously diverse Jews were in the first century.

As an initial matter, we will review the relevant New Testament references:

The Pharisees went out and immediately began conspiring with the Herodians against Him, as to how they might destroy Him.
Mark 3:6.

Then they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Him in order to trap Him in a statement.
Mark 12:13.

And they sent their disciples to Him, along with the Herodians saying, "Teacher, we know that You are truthful and teach the way of God in truth, and defer to no one; for You are not partial to a…

Jesus, the tax law and the regulations

One argument that arises in the issue of apologetics is the extent to which the Old Testament Law is still binding on us. One area that it arises is in relation to the area of homosexuality and the Bible. (Let me once again stress that the CADRE as a whole is of different minds on a number of issues, and the nature of homosexuality is one of them. As always, I speak only for myself when discussing this issue.) For example, in a piece entitled "The Six Bible Passages Used To Condemn Homosexuals", Robert Truluck argues:

The use of Leviticus to condemn and reject homosexuals is obviously a hypocritical selective use of the Bible against gays and lesbians. Nobody today tries to keep the laws in Leviticus. Look at Leviticus 11:1-12, where all unclean animals are forbidden as food, including rabbits, pigs, and shellfish, such as oysters, shrimp, lobsters, crabs, clams, and others that are called an "abomination." Leviticus 20:25 demands that "you are to make a dist…

New Book on Christianity's Role in Social Progress

Rodney Stark is a sociologist who has made a well-earned name for himself in studying religion. His book, The Rise of Christianity, is an informative exploration of the reasons behind Christianity's growth to prominence in the Roman Empire. He has also, more lately, been probing Christianity's role in the development of Western Civilization. His latest offering is The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success. I have not had occasion to purchase this book yet, but did run across World Magazine's interview of Professor Stark about his new book. Here are some highlights:

On how Christianity is distinct from other religions.

The other great faiths either taught that the world is locked in endless cycles or that it is inevitably declining from a previous Golden Age. Only Christians believed that God's gift of reason made progress inevitable—theological as well as technical progress.
On the myth of the so-called "Dark Ages.&q…

A Critical Review of Dennis R. MacDonald's Theory about the New Testament

The latest issue of the Journal of Biblical Literature includes an 18-page critique of the work of Dennis R. MacDonald comparing the Gospel of Mark (and also the Acts of the Apostles) with Homer's writings: Karl Olav Sandnes, Imitatio Homeri? An Appraisal of Dennis R. MacDonald’s “Mimesis Criticism,” JBL 124/4 (2005) 715-732. It is MacDonald’s theory that Mark and parts of Acts are “conscious imitations of incidents, characters, and plot patterns in the Illiad and the Odyssey.”

One of the supposed emulations between Homer and Mark that Sandnes selects for criticism is MacDonald’s use of the “hero returning home motif” to equate Odysseus’ infamous and troubled trip home and Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple. As Sandnes points out, it is not really accurate to portray Jesus’ visit to Jerusalem and the Temple as a recasting of Odysseus returning home and confronting the suitors there. Among other differences, Mark views Jesus as coming to replace, not revive, the Temple. It is ce…

What Does the New Supreme Court Decision on Abortion Mean?

You may have heard about the latest Supreme Court ruling on abortion: Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood of Northern New England. Unusually for an abortion case, the decision was unanimous.

New Hampshire had passed a law requiring that minors seeking to obtain an abortion notify their parents in writing that they intend to do so. The law does not require parental consent. Nevertheless, the First Circuit Court of Appeals struck own the entire statute as unconstitutional under existing Supreme Court precedent. The Supreme Court reversed, but on a limited basis.

Signaling from the beginning that it was not going to be upsetting any apple carts, the opinion -- penned by Justice O'Connor begins, "[w]e do not revisit our abortion precedents today." Rather, the only issue considered by the Court is the "remedy." That is, the Supreme Court considered whether striking down the entire statute was necessary because some parts of it were deemed unconstitutional. The unc…

The Fear of Theological Controversy

No question about it, theology begets controversies. Parting a fragment of historical evidence such as the Council of Nicea is a clear case example of this. Arguments between parties are inevitable when theology is discussed. Our current state in America promotes tolerance and non-confrontational relationships marked by peace, religious pluralism and individual rights. The Bible teaches us to avoid a quarrelsome spirit and from being hypocritically judgemental, divisive, and contentious. Instead, we are told to bear the fruit of the Spirit, which includes kindness, gentleness, reverence, meekness, and patience.

Most people read those two teachings and conclude that the study theology must be avoided at all cost. I'm sure you've heard of the saying, "Never discuss religion and politics." The American banner of tolerance has elevated itself as the Golden Rule in conversations. Do not be alarmed, though, because America has faced this idea before. We are now all to exhau…

A sin apologists need to beware

I have just finished reading, for the first time, The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis. In the forward, Lewis says that the book is intended to have a moral, but cautions it should not be read for its speculation about the nature of the after-life. He says,

I beg readers remember that this is a fantasy. It has of course -- or I intended it to have -- a moral. But the transmortal conditions are solely an imaginative supposal: they are not even a guess or a speculation at what may actually await us. The last thing I wish is to arouse factual curiosity about the details of the after-world.
I quote all of this because I think that his caution should be accepted before reading this book. The point of the book is clearly not about the conditions of what heaven and hell will be like in fact, but some of the mind sets that we may have in heaven and the mind sets that will send us to hell. His speculations about heaven being a pastoral plane which is deathly hard for the spectres of humans who live …

Euthephro Dilemma and Biological Ethics

We saw in that Schweitzer article that people were trying to do biologically based ethics even in Schwetizer's day. But I recently saw a lecture on SCTV in which a professor proclaimed that "Socrates Kicked the ass of moral philosophy." Of course she was quoting her student, but she clearly agreed with him. Her solution was to replace "Moral philosophy" as religiously based, with biologically based social contract theory. Unfortunately I never did catch the woman's name or what the lecture series was. But please bear with me, as these are commonly held opinions anyway.

First let's consider the idea that "Socrates kicked ass on moral philosophy." How did he do this? He supposedly did it with an argument that atheists sometimes use on message boards called "The Euthephro Dilemma." It goes something like this:

Socrates asks Euthephro (who is of course, an idiot and a priest--thus giving Soc religious people to be his foils) "Is the g…