CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
~ John Dryden, Spanish Friar (act II, st. 1)

On several occasions, I have blogged about Sr. Luigi Cascioli, an Italian atheist who has filed a lawsuit against the Roman Catholic Church and one of its priests in the Italian Courts. In my second blog on the Sr. Cascioli almost three years ago, I investigated his claims in the lawsuit. The basis for his suit is the claim that the Roman Catholic Church, and his own local church priest, engaged in an "abuse of popular credulity and the substitution of person" by teaching that the Bible was true. The basis for Sr. Cascioli's assertion? According to his original complaint:

After long and deep studies consisting of (and not only) textual exegesis of the Old and New Testament and other Sacred Scriptures, the undersigned has come to the conclusion that many of the facts produced and presented as if being true and historical in the so called "Holy Scriptures", are in reality false, first of all the historicization of the figure of Jesus Christ, for the most part based on the figure of John of Gamala, son of Judas, downright descendant of the Asmoneian stock.

My fellow blogger, Layman, quickly pointed out a rather significant flaw in Sr. Cascioli's complaint in a post entitled Atheist Lawsuit Claiming Jesus Did Not Exist Thrown Out of Italian Court: John of Gamala, the son of Judas, is a fictional person. As Layman put it:

As it turns out, it appears that John of Galama [sic] is a fictional character of relatively recent vintage. In any event, this sounds absurd but it is not unlike some of the rants I have heard from skeptics about the Jesus Myth and nefarious Christian deceptions. Thankfully, according to ABC News, the Italian Court has tossed out the atheist's lawsuit as frivolous and "recommended magistrates investigate him for slandering priest Enrico Righi."

Not to be undone, Sr. Cascioli filed an appeal in the European Court of Human Rights.

Although I have watched for any news about this appeal, there has been nothing in the news that reported what became of his appeal. I was not able to find proof that the appeal had been filed on the European Court of Human Rights website. Sr. Cascioli's own book-hawking website says nothing about the outcome of the appeal. Thus, I can only assume that the case was either never filed or has now been dismissed.

One would expect that most normal people would allow the matter to die. After all, he had already had his day in court and lost. He had already had a chance to file an appeal and either failed to do so or lost. There appears little to be gained from continuing with his lawsuit -- even for publicity for his hopelessly confused book since he could always publish a new book about how his case was mishandled by a papist-favoring Italian court -- but apparently Sr. Luigi doesn't see it that way. In fact, he apparently believes that filing the same lawsuit is the best thing to do.

According to both his website and an article published on the Associazione Radicale Enzo Tortora entitled Seconda Querela Contro La Chiesa Cattolica Per Abuso Della Credulita Popolare (Second Lawsuit Against The Catholic Church for Abuse of the Popular Credulity), Sr. Cascioli is doing just that -- he is pursuing what is for almost all purposes an identical lawsuit against the Roman Catholic Church that he previously lost ... badly. The article (which is in Italian, so my translation may be a bit rough) says:

Jesus Christ is not an existed personage.

After the first denunciation against the catholic Church in the person of the parish priest of Bagnoregio, don Enrico Righi, for abuse of the popular credulity and substitution of person, finished later on all recording of the Court of Viterbo and to the rejected one of the Court of Strasburgo for legal flaw, Luigi Cascioli of it has introduced a second one, always for the same crimes, against Mons. Lucio Soravito de Franceschi, bishop of Rovigo.

TO THE PROCURA OF THE REPUBLIC NEAR THE COURT OF ROVIGO The undersigned Luigi Cascioli, resident in Roccalvecce (Viterbo) via of the Province 45/B HE EXPOSES HOW MUCH FOLLOWS The undersigned, after fter long and deep studies consisting of (and not only) textual exegesis of the Old and New Testament and other Sacred Scriptures, the undersigned has come to the conclusion that many of the facts produced and presented as if being true and historical in the so called “Holy Scriptures”, are in reality false, first of all the historicization of the figure of Jesus Christ, for the most part based on the figure of John of Gamala, son of Judas, downright descendant of the Asmoneian stock.

This complaint does not wish to contest the freedom of Christians to profess their faith, sanctioned by art. 19 of the Italian Constitution, but wishes to denounce the abuse that the Catholic Church commits by availing itself of its prestige in order to inculcate – as if being real and historical – facts that are really just inventions.

A clear instance of that abuse was committed by Mons. Lucio Soravito de Franceschi, bishop of the diocese of Rovigo, when he sustained the historical figure of Jesus by asserting falsely in a pastoral message on December 2005 the 23th: <>.

That the figure of Jesus has been fully constructed over a certain John of Gamala , son of Judas from Gamala, known as the Galilean, is irrefutably known by such a great number of proofs as to remove whatever doubts about the falsifications carried out by the compilers of the Gospels.

In other words, Sr. Cascioli has filed the exact same lawsuit making the exact same historically incredible claims but merely naming a different Catholic preacher (Mons. Lucio Soravito de Franceschi, bishop of the diocese of Rovigo) as the defendant.

Is there any reason to believe that the lawsuit will have a different result from the first lawsuit which was dismissed with the judge suggesting that the prosecutors investigate Sr. Cascioli for slander? No, at least none that I can see. I don't know if the courts in Italy have any power to sanction plaintiffs who abuse the court by filing repetitive lawsuits, but if there is such a power the court should consider exercising it.

But as far as Sr. Cascioli is concerned, in my second post about his original lawsuit I speculated about whether Sr. Cascioli was insane or simply trying to sell his self-published book through free publicity. At the end of the post, I suggested that he was probably trying to push his book. However, since it is widely agreed that the quote at the outset of this post is a reasonable definition of insanity, I may need to change my opinion.

As I mentioned a couple of days ago, I'm sorry I haven't been able to contribute more directly to even commentary (much moreso main posts!) here on the Cadre Journal recently.

So, to help alleviate that a little--! {g}

I occasionally quip, in dialogue with sceptics of various sorts, that I believe in orthodox trinitarian theism... because I believe in atheists!

And that's true. But although it can leave the impression that I'm talking about atheists sniping at each other or contradicting one another, that isn't in fact what I'm talking about. I do notice such things, but such things don't factor in much to my beliefs.

So, let me present an example of what I am actually talking about, that in one way is broader topically than saying "because I believe in atheists", and in another is more personally particular.

Let us say (which happens to be true) that I love a particular agnostic more than anyone else in the world.

Would any of our visiting sceptics care to cogitate on how my love for her would lead me eventually to accepting orthodox trinitarian theism as true?

Obviously, it doesn't do so immediately. {g} And her specific beliefs or lack thereof aren't principly important. Nor is her specific relationship to me what is principly important. What's important, for the discussion, is that I truly love a person other than myself.

So: what does (or can) it even mean, to truly love her? And what corollaries follow from truly loving her (whatever that means)?

(I could, of course, compose a galumphing huge essay on this; but I've already posted up one of those this week--see immediately previous entry. {g} So I'll just leave this up instead for discussion among any interested parties. Guests are entirely welcome to substitute your own love for another person as the exemplar for the questions under discussion.)


This is a repost (and slight updating) of an article (sermon, homily, whatever {g}) that I wrote last Thanksgiving for the Cadre.

The original article and its subsequent discussion (on a couple of topics) can be found here.


“Would you say grace?” someone in my family will ask, to an elder before a family meal--a meal such as Thanksgiving, for instance.

Of course what they mean is, “Would you give thanks?” But the phrase in English could be more accurately translated, “Would you say ‘grace’?” In our language, ‘grace’ derives from the same Latin root as Spanish ‘gracias’ or Italian ‘grazie’. Strictly speaking our English word traces back to a Middle English translation of an Old French translation of the Latin {gra_tia} (the long ‘a’ being represented by an underscore here): favor, gratitude, agreeableness. The attitude expressed is one of actively receiving love, in fair-togetherness.

In New Testament Greek, however, the word that is typically Englished as ‘grace’ does not have this meaning. Nor does the Hebrew/Aramaic which the New Testament authors were translating or thinking about (typically following the Septuagint). The meaning there is not different in content, exactly, but different in direction: the reference is not primarily to the receiver, in thankfulness, but to the giver--for which the proper response from the receiver is, ideally, an active acknowledgment and thankfulness.

What I find most interesting about this, is that the Greek word chosen for expressing this notion is rooted in the ancient Greek word for joy: chara. Thus {charis}, and its cognates, in context, means ‘freely given joy’. And so it is entirely appropriate, when one perceives that joy has been freely given--an action of indisputable love and fair-togetherness--to acknowledge that this has been done by naming that which has been given: to say ‘I thank you’ by saying ‘grace’.

This has deep topical (though not linguistic) links to the notion of ‘acclaim’--a New Testament Greek word often Englished as ‘confess’; which isn’t an altogether inaccurate translation, but which more literally could be called ‘speak (or reason) out with’. The basic idea is that a person is actively cohering with another person. One of the more striking cases is found in Luke’s story of Judas Iscariot: “Now, coming away [from the group, during the final week in Jerusalem before the Passover], he [Judas] confers with the chief priests and officers as to how he may be giving up Him [Jesus] to them. And they rejoiced, and they agreed to give him silver. And he •acquiesces•; and sought opportunity to give Him up to them minus a throng.” [GosLuke 22:4-6, Knoch’s translation] ‘Acquiesce’, in English, can be a little weak. The Greek is much stronger: he acted (and so declared) in an agreeing unity with them.

St. Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, after relating to his congregation the hymn concerning the prior divinity and incarnated humanity of Christ (2:5-8), urging his listeners to be of a similar disposition to the attitude and intentions of Christ in His action of doing so, continues with one of the most famous and well-known declarations in Christendom: a declaration that includes not only this action of unity agreement, but also a verbing of the term {charis}. Most Christians will be able to quote a phrase from this declaration already; but listen to it in its fullness, with these contextual meanings restored to the verses:

“Therefore, God also highly exalts Him [Jesus] and in joy is freely giving Him the name above every name!--so that in the name of Jesus [i.e. “The Lord saves” or “The Lord is Salvation”] every knee shall be bowing, celestial and terrestrial and subterranean, and every tongue shall be agreeing in unity with each other that Jesus Christ is Lord, into the glory of God the Father!” (Phil 2:9-11)

Leaving aside as controversial the scope of this declaration and this hope (so colorfully expressed by the Apostle), notice that the thanks for salvation is consonant with the freely given joy of God the Father: a joy connected with the giving of the name itself, a name of promised salvation, representing not only the intentions but the character of God Himself.

Nowhere is this more unexpectedly expressed, perhaps, than in a story of Jesus unique to Luke: the story of an unnamed woman, fairly early in Jesus’ ministry, who crashes an intellectual dinner in a most scandalous fashion.

(The following translation is one I wrote for The King of Stories, [the index to which can be found here]. I locate this incident as occurring not long after the healing of Jairus’ daughter.)

Now, a certain Pharisee asked Him to dinner; and entering into the Pharisee's house, He reclined (at the table).

And look! a woman who was in the city, a sinner! (or 'a woman “of the city”, who was a sinner')

Now realizing He is lying at the table in the Pharisee's house, she brought an alabaster jar of attar.

And standing behind at His feet (where He was reclining), weeping, she now starts raining His feet with tears; and with the hair on her head she wiped them off, and fondly kissing His feet she rubbed them with the attar.

Now--when the Pharisee who invited Him saw this, he said to himself: "If this man was a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman is touching Him, that she is a sinner!"

Answering, Jesus said toward him, "Simon, I have something to tell you."

And he strongly agreed, "Say on, Rabbi!"

"Two debtors paying usury were owing a certain moneylender; one owed five hundred days wages, and the other owed fifty. Now, as they had nothing to pay with, he freely gives them joy instead. So which of them will be loving him more?"

Answering, Simon said, "I suppose the one to whom he gave more joy."

And He said to him, "You have judged correctly."

Now turning to the woman, He strongly declared to Simon:

"You see this woman, don't you!? I came into your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, no kiss of greeting, no oil to rub on My face! Yet she rains tears on My feet! And with her hair she wipes them off; and she rubs attar on My feet; and from the time I arrived, she hasn't ceased in fondly kissing My feet!

"I say to you: her sins, which are many, are pardoned; on behalf of which she loves this much.

"But he who is forgiven little, loves little."

And He said to the woman: "Your sins have been forgiven. Your faith has saved you. Go in peace."

Yet those who were reclining with Him began saying among themselves...

..."Who is this, who even is pardoning sins?!"

This incident is (almost?) unique, in the New Testament, including in Luke’s account, for its colloquial way of speaking of forgiveness and the mending of disrupted relationships between persons. The one who has been wronged is described as freely giving joy to those who have done the wrong. It is easy to see why joy is invoked in this description: love is actively given in this act, and love (in reciprocation) is actively received, to be given then in return and so on in the rhythmic actions of unity. Moreover, in this parable from Jesus, it is the one who was wronged who initiates the giving of the joy to those who have wronged him. Yet though their supplication is not mentioned, neither is the responsibility of the wrong-doer neglected; for Jesus (so Luke reports) also states that the faith of the woman has saved her.

The mending cannot be done without the active participation of both of the people; but we, as derivative creatures, depend upon God for our very existence and abilities. Indeed it is by God’s grace, by His freely given joy, that we exist in the first place and continue to exist at all. In a very real sense, it is even by God’s grace that we can sin--for though this is an abuse of the grace of God, the grace to be abused must still be given.

It is striking and challenging, then, to read the scriptures with this understanding: that when we see the word of ‘grace’, we ought to try substituting that with “freely given joy” (or some cognate thereof), and see how this affects our further understanding of the passages.

But what (it may be reasonably asked) does any of this have to do with apologetics? My answer is that this has deep connections to the theological distinction between trinitarian theism (I mean of the orthodox kind), and any other kind of theism imaginable, including proposed in other religions and philosophies.

If orthodox trinitarian theism is true (and I believe it is), then God is a (personally) singular unity of distinct persons. In one kind of tri-theism (for example the classic Celtic exposition of Maiden, Mother, Crone), the persons are not in fact distinct but are only masks or appearances of the divine in regard to certain human conventions. Or again, in another kind of tri-theism (for example in Mormonism), the persons though distinct are not the single unified ground of existence.

Or yet again, in cosmological dualisms (such as a Manichean God/Anti-God cosmology; or in a neo-pagan notion of Father/Mother, which is related to a less religious God/Nature disparity among some philosophers) the two separate grounds of reality have no common interaction with one another. (Or else if they do, then being of distinct ‘substances’ in philosophical parlance they thus are interacting within a common field or system of existence, and this is what we ought to be discussing instead when doing ontological work.)

If orthodox trinitarian theism is true, however, then God the self-begetting is one person; and God the self-begotten is also distinctly a person; and the two of them in their personal relationship with each other actively ground not only their singular existence as God but also (as the final ground of all reality) ground the existence of all derivative reality: including you and me and the system of Nature in which we live.

God is love, and fair-togetherness (the word that from Greek we typically English as “righteousness”), and positive justice therefore--if this is true. (I am not at this time discussing the role and existence of the 3rd Person in this economy; suffice to say that He distinctly proceeds instead of being begotten. In other words, His existence has nothing specifically to do with the self-existence of God, or of derivative reality. But I have discussed this elsewhere this summer in this journal.)

Please note that I am not here arguing that we should believe this is true; I am only pointing out the distinctions involved--and I am pointing out what is at stake in different propositions concerning God.

A singular person as the ground of all reality, does not give us love as the ground of all reality--for there is no coherent personal interaction as the ground of this God’s existence (and everything else). This remains true even if the person can be perceived in different circumstances as if there were different persons. It is only an ‘as if’.

Multiple personal grounds of reality, do not give us love as the ground of all reality--for they utterly do not share a common existence. (Which indeed renders the concept meaningless as a practical or even a principle proposal; but that is another discussion.)

Multiple persons who are not the singular ground of all reality, do not give us love as the ground of all reality--for they are not the ground of all reality but exist within that ground or system.

But God the Father and God the Son, neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance, God self-begetting and God self-begotten--

--this does mean that true love is the ground of all reality. The grace, the {charis}, of God, is love actively given and actively received in (so to speak) active submission, between distinct persons. This is God’s freely given joy. God’s grace does not depend on sin, but where sin exceeds grace hyperexceeds: for not as the sin is the grace! The grace of God is the ground and the cause of derivative creation (the generation of not-God systems and creatures within those systems); and the grace of God is the hope of reconciliation between man and man as well as between man and God; and the grace of God is the faith and the hope and the love that shall be enduring when all the things that can be shaken have been shaken.

Unless orthodox Christian theology is true, there is no objectively moral final ground to appeal to; only, at best, the mere exercise of mere power.

And that, as most people intuitively understand, is not love.

That is what is at stake, in specifically Christian apologetics.

As for me, being persuaded that this is true, I acclaim God, and give thanks both to Him and to His mediant agents (human or otherwise!) for all the love they are willing to give me; and so I say...

thank you. (and I sorrow for my sins against you, all of you, above and below, and reject my selfishness, in hope of the day to come when I will have finally finished dying--by God’s grace, and with God’s help.)

And to all our readers around the world, on this Thanksgiving weekend, whether or not we must be striving in this vale of separation, I say, from the bottom of my heart:

God’s grace and hope to all of you, above and below!

Amen. {s}

Jason Pratt

Atheists like Richard Dawkins and Lee Randolph argue that as a result of recent advances in behavioral and neural science it is hard to preserve any meaningful concept of moral blame or praiseworthiness. If our behavioral tendencies are largely determined by genetics, upbringing and peer influence, can we say that we are ever truly responsible for our actions? As Randolph puts it: "Since the brain is a biological device. It can be influenced by physiological factors, and physiological factors induce desire and motivation. Since we cannot get outside of our thoughts and feelings, they make up our personality our 'essence'. This renders any judgment by an external supernatural creator meaningless because it would know that we are helpless to feel any other way than our physiological make up will support at the time, and that our behavior and desire will follow that. We are helpless to think any thoughts that are not supported by our physiological make up at the time. The physiological factors would have to be eliminated to make any judgment meaningful."

I would dispute that physiological factors have to be eliminated in order for judgment to be meaningful. One might as well say that 'soul-stuff' would have to be eliminated if that is the basis for our making decisions under a dualistic anthropology. The fact that our decisions have a structured basis constrained by various rules of operation does not rule out intentional agency.

That said, I do agree that a more nuanced understanding of the causes of human behavior is in order. There are biological conditions which should temper our eagerness to assign blame in the case of unusual or destructive behavior. But are there cases where a person with reasonable mental capacity and no obvious psychological imbalances still engages in calculated, destructive behavior that we can assign blameworthiness to? I believe there are many such cases. I list just a couple below:

1) Human trafficking: the sickening truth about the slave trade today is that it is mostly conducted by people who are in it for the money. The traders are for the most part smart, efficient and well-organized. They did not necessarily come from poverty or domestic abuse. Many were military officers who lost their jobs when the Soviet Union dissolved and borders became porous (see Misha Glenny's McMafia, reviewed here). There are certainly trans-individual factors at work which make women and young girls desperate and likely to be fooled by promises of work and money abroad, and conversely the economic deprivation that makes a 'career' in human trafficking seem attractive to certain people. But the fact is that these are not crimes of passion, they are not the result of seratonin imbalances (in fact many of the traffickers have families of their own whom they care about deeply so we can't argue that they're even psychopathic). Brothel owners and slave traders made a conscious, deliberate decision to profit from human misery and are often astonishingly creative and dedicated to honing their 'craft' by concocting elaborate schemes to fool border patrols and transport the girls to their clients. This is evil, not just inconvenience or a socially conditioned taboo, and the people who perpetrate it are completely responsible for their actions. No insanity plea can be effective here.

2) Pelting: despite PETA's notorious and dubiously effective animal rights activism they have put their finger on a horrifying phenomenon that continues unabated to this day: careless and rampant cruelty to animals in the fur trade and other industries. They have put up a truly disturbing video on their website (I warn you, this is NOT for the faint of heart) of pelters in China taking dogs, foxes and other furry creatures one by one, smacking them against the ground to subdue them (but without actually killing them) and then slowly skinning them alive, occasionally stopping to give the animal another good thwack on the ground if it struggles or twitches. After the skinning, with many of the animals still alive, they are left on a heap to die slowly. Again, this is no crime of passion and is not the result of a bad childhood. These pelters are simply businessmen doing their job. They could easily have chosen to mercifully end the animals' lives before pelting them. No seratonin deficiency would have overriden their conscious action. They make a choice every day to inflict the most monstrous brutality on these animals and no one is responsible but they themselves. (I won't go into the question now of whether God is justified in creating a world in which animals suffer in the wild as a result of natural predation. In the above case the chain of responsibility is clear: it lies with human beings. With God and creation the issue is much less clear cut, because we have to take into account the ultimate purpose of creation, etc.)

Ben Witherington III, Ph.D., Amos Professor of NT for Doctoral Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary and author of multiple books, including What Have They Done with Jesus?: Beyond Strange Theories and Bad History--Why We Can Trust the Bible, has published on his blog a very interesting article entitled The Rhetorical Character of Hebrews. This entry is apparently the text of a lecture he is (or was) scheduled to give at the Society of Biblical Literature lecture.

At the outset, he takes up the question about the authorship of Hebrews. Of course, there have been numerous theories as to who wrote the book (including some that identify the author as the Apostle Paul), but rather than focus on the "who", he focuses on "why" there is no author identified.

It is of course possible that the author is so well known to the audience that there was no need for such an identification here. I would suggest however, that while that may be true, there is another primary reason for the anonymity of this document.

This document, like 1 John is a homily , in fact D.J. Harrington has called it “arguably the greatest Christian sermon ever written down” It does not partake of the qualities of a letter except at the very end of the document (Heb. 13.22-25), and these epistolary features are added because this sermon had to be sent to the audience rather than delivered orally to them by the author. In fact, H. Thyen, after studying all the evidence for early Jewish homilies, has argued that Hebrews is the only completely preserved Jewish homily of the period, but this is overlooking 1 John, and James as well.

Sermon manuscripts, ancient or modern, do not conform to the characteristics of an ancient letter with addressor or addressee expected at the outset. Neither do other rhetorical forms of speaking, and make no mistake this document involves rhetoric of considerable skill. Hebrews then, to use an oxymoron, an oral document, and in fact a particular type of oral document—a homily in the form of a ‘word of exhortation’ as Heb. 13.22 puts it. It is not an accident that this is the very same phrase used to characterize Paul’s sermon in Acts 13.15. Hebrews is not a haphazard discourse but a piece of polished rhetoric which has been variously categorized as either epideictic or deliberative rhetoric or some combination of the two (see below). Here the point that needs to be made is that the document’s authority rests in its contents, not in its author’s claims to apostolic authority and its contents are grounded in the shared values the author and audience already embrace and affirm. To judge from the end of Heb. 13 it is assumed, but not argued for, that this author has some authority over this audience who knows very well who he is, and can anticipate a visit from him and Timothy before long.

The article goes on and gets into a lot of the content of Hebrews and the style of document it is. I highly recommend it.

There have been significant developments in the fraud trial of Oded Golan. One of the key artifacts challenged by the prosecution is the James Ossuary (or, more specifically, the inscription which refers to Jesus' brother, James). The case has dragged on for years, as American concepts like the “Speedy Trial Act” seem to be unknown in Israel.

The San Francisco Gate has an article about the collapse of the prosecution’s case. The judge in the case has told the prosecution that its prospects of a guilty verdict are bleak:

"After all the evidence we have heard, including the testimony of the prime defendant, is the picture still the same as the one you had when he was charged?" District Court Judge Aharon Farkash pointedly asked public prosecutor, Adi Damti. "Not every case ends in the way you think it will when it starts. Maybe we can save ourselves the rest."

"Have you really proved beyond a reasonable doubt that these artifacts are fakes as charged in the indictment? The experts disagreed among themselves. Where is the definitive proof needed to show that the accused faked the ossuary?" Judge Farkash asked prosecutor Damti. "You need to ask yourselves those questions very seriously, and if necessary consult with your superiors in the public prosecutor's office."

Keep in mind that the judge making these comments is the same person who will decide whether the prosecution has proved its case. Israel does not have jury trials. Instead, Judge Farkash himself decides whether the defendant is guilty. Additionally, Mr. Golan was arrested along with four others on multiple artifact fraud related charges. (For previous updates about the trial, see here). Since filing the charges, the prosecution has dropped them against two defendants. Another reached a plea deal, admitting to a minor charge unrelated to the James Ossuary.

The trial has gone on for three years, with most of that time (other than some lengthy breaks) devoted to the prosecution’s case. To date, more than 80 witnesses have testified, resulting in around 10,000 pages of testimony. By all accounts, the prosecution’s case has suffered from effective cross-examination of its witnesses, with some government witness recanting or altering testimony in favor of authenticity.

The case reconvenes in January (another break!). It sounds to me like there is almost no hope of a prosecution win in this trial. Courts do not encourage prosecutors to rethink continuing their case unless they believe very strongly that the prosecution's case has failed.

Predictably, Hershel Shanks has responded to this news with an article entitled, “Supporters of James Ossuary’s Inscription’s Authenticity Vindicated.” Shanks and his magazine, BAR, have a stake in the Ossuary’s authenticity because they were early promoters of the find. Notwithstanding his exuberance, even if the judge sticks with his present opinion and finds for the defense in this case, it is not a determination that the Ossuary is authentic, but that the prosecution has failed to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the defendant’s faked the Ossuary inscription. It is entirely possible that the inscription was faked but that the government failed to meet its burden of proof. (A useful example is OJ Simpson, who was found “not guilty” in the criminal system but “liable” in the civil system, which has a lower burden of proof).

Still, when we look at the reasons that the government’s case has collapsed it is telling. The court has not just reached a verdict after hearing the case, he has heard the government’s case and does not think they should even bother continuing. In other words, the government’s case is very week. Prosecution experts recanted important parts of earlier statements, with a few high profile defections on the ultimate issue of authenticity. According to BAR, the lead prosecution expert, Professor Goren, “was forced to admit that after the police had removed this covering, he could see original ancient patina in the critical word ‘Jesus.’” Further, “At the trial, not a single expert in the Semitic script of the period testified that the inscription was a forgery. Nor did a single scientist back up Professor Goren’s scientific testimony—and several scientists testified otherwise.”

At the very least, the issue of authenticity remains open and, barring unforeseen events or evidence, should be pursued rigorously by more academic means.

Update: According to the Jerusalem Post, the judge gave the prosecution six month to decide whether to proceed with the case.

On December 10th, pro-abortion groups will present petitions asking the United Nation's General Assembly to make abortion a universally recognized human right. The Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute created an alternate petition drive that calls for government to interpret the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as protecting the unborn child from abortion. They need at least 100,000 signatures by December 10th, the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Please go to the Online Petition and submit your signature.

If you know anyone that would be interested in doing the same you are welcome to forward this on to whomever.

"A nation that aborts its own children is a nation without hope." ~

Pope John Paul II

Barry Carey at has found a singularly interesting article heading into the holidays which he has posted in an post entitled For Goodness' Sake. Here's what Barry found:

I read with a slight chuckle this recent news story about the bus ads planned for the Christmas season by the American Humanist Association. Starting next week and running through December will be ads placed on the sides of buses which state, “Why believe in a God? Just be good for goodness’ sake.” Of course, the reference is to the lyrics of the children’s holiday song, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”

It seems the athiests and agnostics are feeling a little left out and lonely during the Christmas holidays. According to a spokesman for the humanist group:

We are trying to reach our audience, and sometimes in order to reach an audience, everybody has to hear you…

Our reason for doing it during the holidays is there are an awful lot of agnostics, atheists and other types of nontheists who feel a little alone during the holidays because of its association with traditional religion.

The Humanist Manifesto III (available at the AHA website) defines humanism as…

… a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.

Barry than spends some time making a couple of points about goodness that I encourage readers to read in full.

For my part, I found the use of the quote -- "be good for goodness sake" -- to be an interesting choice. Generally, when someone says to do something "for goodness sake", that phrase is an idiom. It means roughly the same as "for crying out loud". To be "good for goodness sake" is not an exhortation to be good for the sake of goodness. However, that is exactly how the humanists appear to be using the phrase in their bus advertisement.

This is the age old question of whether the atheists have a basis for their moral position. Keep in mind that no one is disputing the atheists are capable of acting morally. In fact, the Book of Romans says that all men have the law of God written on their hearts so that they know what is right and wrong -- men just suppress the truth that they already know as the result of the fact that God has written it on their hearts.

But here, the atheists are asking us to be good. Why? For the sake of goodness. Really? Is that really a reason to be good? It certainly doesn't seem like a strong reason to me.

Consider: Since there is no God, the questions that arise from the slogan become (1) what is good, and (2) what is the moral mandate for being good? In response to the first question there is no answer -- only a vague notion that being "good" is simply what the atheist believes, in his subjective, relativitic view, is good. Without a clear vision of what "goodness" means, there is no way to have any certainty which acts are good and which are not.

The answer to the second question is even murkier. It could be "so that we have a better world." But this doesn't answer the question of why I should care if we have a better world. That assumes that goodness means caring what happens to others, but since we haven't come up with any objective standard of goodness there is no compelling reason to believe that caring about what happens to others is "goodness."

Of course, we all have a notion of what it means to be good in the general sense. We all know that helping an old lady across the street is good and stealing her handbag is not good. But there are many areas in between those two extremes that are less clear as to what is actually "good". And even if we could all agree as to what it means to be good, is being good for "goodness sake" a motivation to be good?

Maybe I am happy being evil and I'd rather be "happy for happiness' sake."

Regardless, I think that the real motivation for this bumper sticker is what the humanist says about the reason for the slogan: "there are an awful lot of agnostics, atheists and other types of nontheists who feel a little alone during the holidays...." Yup. They don't experience the deep joy that many of us feel when we remember that Jesus came into the world because "God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life." So rather than allow those of us who celebrate the real meaning of the holiday to do so in peace, they want the rest of us to feel as miserable as they are. (Phil. 1:27-28)

Immediately prior to the election, I wrote an article entitled Abortion: In this Election, One Candidate is Not Viable that discussed President-Elect Obama's horrible record on right-to-life related issues. In writing the post, I used an article by Robert George entitled Obama's Abortion Extremism as a source. While I did not mention it in my blog, the article did discuss President-Elect Obama's extreme views on stem cell research. It noted:

For several years, Americans have been debating the use for biomedical research of embryos produced by in vitro fertilization (originally for reproductive purposes) but now left in a frozen condition in cryopreservation units. President Bush has restricted the use of federal funds for stem-cell research of the type that makes use of these embryos and destroys them in the process. I support the President's restriction, but some legislators with excellent pro-life records, including John McCain, argue that the use of federal money should be permitted where the embryos are going to be discarded or die anyway as the result of the parents' decision. Senator Obama, too, wants to lift the restriction.

Apparently, this process has already started. According to Obama reviews Bush orders on stem cells, drilling by Stephen Ohlemacher, Associated Press. The article states:

President-elect Obama's transition chief said Sunday the incoming administration is looking to reverse President Bush's executive orders on stem cell research, oil and gas drilling and other matters.

John Podesta said the president can use such orders to move quickly without waiting for Congress to act, highlighting the extraordinary powers a president can wield beyond signing legislation approved by Congress. Podesta said people should expect Obama to use those powers to reverse many policies of the Bush administration.

"I think across the board, on stem cell research, on a number of areas, you see the Bush administration even today moving aggressively to do things that I think are probably not in the interest of the country," Podesta said in a broadcast interview.

"There's a lot that the president can do using his executive authority without waiting for congressional action, and I think we'll see the president do that," Podesta said.

President Bush has limited federal spending on stem cell research, a position championed by opponents of abortion rights. Obama has supported the research in an effort to find cures for diseases such as Alzheimer's.

One of my fellow CADRE members commented in response to my prior blog that he didn't see the President as having that much influence on this issue. But this article demonstrates that the President can push for and unilaterally increase the ease with which both abortions and embryonic stem cells can be killed in the name of "the general welfare" of the people.

This is bad, in my opinion and the opinion of many in those who want to help the most helpless among us. However, if the article is right, Obama wants to go much further than this.

But Obama would not stop there. He has co-sponsored a bill-strongly opposed by McCain-that would authorize the large-scale industrial production of human embryos for use in biomedical research in which they would be killed. In fact, the bill Obama co-sponsored would effectively require the killing of human beings in the embryonic stage that were produced by cloning. It would make it a federal crime for a woman to save an embryo by agreeing to have the tiny developing human being implanted in her womb so that he or she could be brought to term. This "clone and kill" bill would, if enacted, bring something to America that has heretofore existed only in China-the equivalent of legally mandated abortion. In an audacious act of deceit, Obama and his co-sponsors misleadingly call this an anti-cloning bill. But it is nothing of the kind. What it bans is not cloning, but allowing the embryonic children produced by cloning to survive.


OMAHA, Neb. — State Sen. Ernie Chambers filed notice today that he intends to appeal a judge’s dismissal of his lawsuit against God.

Chambers’ lawsuit asks for a permanent injunction against God, alleging that the defendant has caused “fearsome floods, egregious earthquakes, horrendous hurricanes, terrifying tornadoes, pestilential plagues, ferocious famines, devastating droughts, genocidal wars, birth defects and the like.”

An atheist, Chambers has said he filed the lawsuit last year to uphold citizens’ rights to sue “anyone else, even God,” after his colleagues in the Legislature sought to limit so-called frivolous lawsuits.

Douglas County District Judge Marlon Polk had dismissed the lawsuit in October, saying there was no evidence that the defendant had been served. What’s more, Polk said, “There can never be service effectuated on the named defendant.”

But in his notice of appeal, Chambers says the same court he is appealing to acknowledges God. Chambers cites the invocation read each time Nebraska Supreme Court judges enter court: “God save the United States and this honorable court.”

The above quote, from Nebraska state senator taking lawsuit against higher power to higher court by Todd Cooper, Omaha World-Herald, November 6, 2008, published in the Detroit Free Press, is simply another example of atheist silliness and the court's lack of ability to call a frivolous lawsuit a frivolous lawsuit.

I understand the motivation. The atheist state senator, Ernie Chambers, wants to make a point that people should be allowed to sue anyone -- even what he almost certainly erroneously believes is a fictitious being in the sky. But does his lawsuit really advance that purpose? To me, it shows just the opposite -- there should be limits on litigation to avoid the waste of taxpayer money on stupid lawsuits like this. Really, how is it that filing a lawsuit that wastes everyone's time is somehow supportive of the idea that anyone else should be able to file lawsuits that waste everyone's time? Doesn't it actually add ammunition to the position that society should prevent this type of thing?

As for the court, I somewhat like the idea that the case should be dismissed because Sen. Chambers has failed to effect service. But I think that the much better and more permanent approach would be for the court to dismiss the claim because of lack of jurisdiction, lack of remedy and the problem of sovereign immunity. The court could say consistent with the Constitution that if such a God exists then the court has no authority over Him -- rather, He has authority over the court. Even if the court ordered an injunction, it is without power to enforce the injunction hence making it impossible for the court to grant the relief requested. Finally, God, if He exists, being sovereign over all things, is immune from the decisions of the court.

That would be truthful and not waste any further time because all of the propositions are obviously true.

A long running fad in some circles is to try to find the "historic Jesus." In this line of thought, the "historic Jesus" cannot be the same Jesus that we find in the Bible. Instead, the "historic Jesus" must be some interesting historical figure (such as a eschatological preacher) who has been layered in myth and clothed in deity by his followers. He certainly wouldn't have claimed to be God (since there is no personal God) and he would have been appalled at what today's Christians would have made of him. People like John Dominic Crossan, Marcus Borg and the Jesus Seminar promote this view in their books (that are always more abundant on the shelves at Barnes and Noble and Borders than the books by more conservative scholars like William Lane Craig or J.P. Moreland).

Fortunately, while this fad belief gets far more publicity (especially around Christmas and Easter), at least one author who rejects this view and makes the case for historic Christianity gets some shelve space in the large chain stores: Lee Strobel.

Say what you like about his books, they adequately present the basic arguments for historic Christianity, and do so through a series of interviews with various credentialed academics who are experts in their field. He has done so again in his latest offering, The Case for the Real Jesus: A Journalist Investigates Current Attacks on the Identity of Christ. According to the advertising blurb:

[Author Lee Strobel] addresses six major challenges and claims: that a "different Jesus" is seen in ancient documents that seem as credible as the four canonical gospels; that tampering by the church has damaged the Bible's portrayal of Jesus; that new explanations refute Jesus' resurrection; that Christianity copied pagan religions regarding Jesus; that Jesus didn't fulfill messianic prophecies; and that contemporary people should be able to choose what to believe about Jesus. As with his previous books, Strobel attacks the issues as an investigative journalist, though one with a clear agenda. He searches out experts (including Craig A. Evans and Michael Licona) to refute each objection, offering readers top evangelical scholarship revealed in everyday language while challenging the claims of liberal writers like John Shelby Spong, Bart Ehrman and others. "In the end," he says, "none of these seemingly daunting challenges turned out to be close calls... they were systematically dismantled by scholars... with facts, logic and evidence." Evangelical readers will come away with deeper understanding of the various arguments about Jesus.

In one chapter, Strobel has a conversation with Dr. Dan Wallace largely about the views of Bart Ehrman, author of Misquoting Jesus : The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. At one point, Lee Strobel asks Dr. Wallace about the view that no manuscripts of the Bible survived the attempted destruction of all manuscripts by the Emperor Diocleian in 303 A.D. After making the point that such an idea is "loony", Dr. Wallace continues:

“It’s disturbing that when it comes to the Christian faith, people don’t really want – or know how – to investigate the evidence,” he replied. “Christians are not being led into proper historical research by their pastors. I have been saying for some time that I don’t think the evangelical church has fifty years left of life to it until it repents.”

“In what way?”

“First, we have to quit marginalizing scripture,” he said. “We can’t treat the Bible with kid gloves. We really need to wrestle with the issues, because our faith depends on it. And second, we need to quit turning Jesus into our buddy. He’s the sovereign Lord of the universe, and we need to understand that and respond accordingly.”

“After years of studying these issues in depth, what has surprised you about the manuscripts you’ve analyzed?”

“The most remarkable thing to me is the tedium of looking at manuscript after manuscript after manuscript that just don’t change,” he answered. “Yes, there are differences, but they’re so minor. When I teach textual criticism every year, my students spend about a third of their workload transcribing manuscripts – and invariably they marvel at how little the manuscripts deviate.

“Now, I don’t want to give a false impression that they don’t deviate at all. But the vast majority of differences involve a spelling error or a moveable nu. You don’t see a line out of the blue where a scribe said, ‘Oh, I’m gonna make some kind of bizarre statement here.’ So the bottom line to me is how steady the copies of the manuscripts have been over the centuries.”

“Do you believe that God has accurately preserved enough for us to know him and his truth?”

“Absolutely. Do we have all the essentials? Yes. Do we have all the particulars? No. But that’s the task of a textual critic: to try to get back to the original. I’ll spend the rest of my life looking at manuscripts – transcribing them, photographing them, and publishing them. We still won’t recover the original wording in every single place. But I hope by the end of my life we’ll be a little bit closer – and that’s a worthy goal.”

A worthy goal and a worthy book.

It occurred to me that a parallel (or consequent?) discussion might also be held on the question of what difference it makes whether persons have inalienable rights. Which, though obviously related, is different from the question of how (or whether) we can or do have inalienable rights assuming for purposes of argument that this-or-that worldview is true concerning fundamental realities.

So I decided to create a discussion thread for that topic, too. {s!}


Today in the United States many of us will be voting to decide who will lead our nation in many key legislative and executive posts, up to (most obviously) the Presidency.

Rather than discuss politics, though, I thought I would open the comments for visitors to talk about how inalienable human rights (or the inalienable rights of any persons) are understood to be constituted within various worldviews.

I'm less interested in what those rights are supposed to be, than in how (or whether?) a claim of "inalienable rights" can be true within various worldviews: if X is true about fundamental reality, then inalienable rights can-or-do (or cannot?) follow from that truth, how?

Also, I would rather respondents make a positive case (even if briefly) for their own positions first before critiquing someone else's position.

Due to hassles back here at home base, I'm not likely to be checking in constantly on this thread, but I did want to start it while I was passing through.


Recently, I was driving to work when I passed an older model Chevy puffing along covered in progressive bumper stickers. Most were political in nature, but a few were related to issues that concern social conservatives and Christian conservatives. One older bumper sticker read: "Don't like Abortion? Don't have one." Obviously, the person supports the idea that this entire abortion controvery would go away if those of us who opposed abortion would simply recognize that its a matter of personal choice and that we should simply not have an abortion if we don't like the practice.


With all due respect to the owner of this Chevy who I am certain has an IQ higher than a toaster's, I really don't know how anyone can hold a view so incredibly shallow and vapid. Come on, sir. Given that the debate revolves around the question of the humaness of the person being aborted, does it really strike you that this is somehow a solution to the issue?

In his article, Obama's Abortion Extremism, Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University, pointed out exactly why this type of thinking is so unconvincing to many people by drawing an analogy to the slavery issue that was brewing at the time of the writing of the United States Constitution.

Many people at the time of the American founding would have preferred a world without slavery but nonetheless opposed abolition. Such people - Thomas Jefferson was one - reasoned that, given the world as it was, with slavery woven into the fabric of society just as it had often been throughout history, the economic consequences of abolition for society as a whole and for owners of plantations and other businesses that relied on slave labor would be dire. Many people who argued in this way were not monsters but honest and sincere, albeit profoundly mistaken. Some (though not Jefferson) showed their personal opposition to slavery by declining to own slaves themselves or freeing slaves whom they had purchased or inherited. They certainly didn't think anyone should be forced to own slaves. Still, they maintained that slavery should remain a legally permitted option and be given constitutional protection.

"Would we describe such people, not as pro-slavery, but as "pro-choice"? Of course we would not. It wouldn't matter to us that they were "personally opposed" to slavery, or that they wished that slavery were "unnecessary," or that they wouldn't dream of forcing anyone to own slaves. We would hoot at the faux sophistication of a placard that said "Against slavery? Don't own one." We would observe that the fundamental divide is between people who believe that law and public power should permit slavery, and those who think that owning slaves is an unjust choice that should be prohibited." (Emphasis added.)

If the baby that is being aborted is alive and is human as those of us in the pro-life community affirm, then simply saying that people who don't like abortion shouldn't have one fails to be an acceptable alternative.

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