CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

The Vatican released some numbers about Catholicism worldwide. They conclude that the number of Catholics worldwide held steady at 17.3% of the global population as of 2007. That is about 1.14 billion Catholics. As for the number of priests, "Since 2000, the number of priests has gone up by several hundred each year. The two decades before that had witnessed a marked decline." The number of priests in the hopper also seems to be increasing, though there are regional declines, "Worldwide, the number of candidates for the priesthood rose by just under one-half of a percentage point, although Europe and North and South America registered small declines."

In a previous post, I noted the stability of atheist belief in the United States despite the many predictions about the end of religion. The number of atheists in the U.S. today is the same today as it was in 1944: 4%. In other words, "[t]he number of atheists in the United States appears to be unchanged for at least 63 years."

Just as the rise of atheism had been predicted for so long, the demise of church attendance and Christian faith has been anticipated by many. Studies show, however, that reported church attendance has been remarkably stable. Church attendance today is he same as it was in 1973: 36%. There was a drop off before then. From 1954 through 1964, church attendance was stable at 44%. The drop off occurred between 1964 and 1973. But why did it drop off about 8 points during that time?

Stark attributes the decline in the late 60s and early 70s to Vatican II. His theory is that Vatican II lead to a decline in Catholic attendance, while Protestant rates of attendance stayed the same. The overall drop is explained by significant reductions in Catholic attendance post-VII. Stark may have been mistaken in saying that VII made it so that missing Mass was no longer a sin, but there is no doubt VII brought about significant changes to the Catholic Church. Even so, the rate of attendance has been remarkably stable for 36 years through times of remarkable social change. Further, Stark is likely on to something about how -- at least -- VII was perceived by American Catholics.

Accordingly, predictions about the demise of Christianity and religion in the United States appear unfounded. It is likely that the nature of Christianity has changed -- for example, the shift from moderate and liberal denominations to more conservative ones and the rise of Pentacostalism -- but that Americans are going to church in about the same numbers as their parents and their parents' parents (with the possible exception of Catholics post VII).

Source: Rodney Stark, Introduction, What Americans Really Believe.

Dr. Thomas Woodward came to my college (Princeton) to give a talk on Intelligent Design. I had already made up my mind a while back that ID was bogus, the arguments had been pummeled into the ground and that it was bad science and even worse theology. I went to the talk expecting to give him a good talking-to. To my surprise, he was very reasonable and the points he made were at the very least thought-provoking. Some of the evidence of design he presented I hadn't heard before. What was most interesting, though, was that he pointed me to the work of Brad Monton, a philosopher of physics who did his PhD at Princeton, who is an atheist but who also thinks at least some of the ID arguments have some merit. Check out his fascinating blog here and read the preview of his forthcoming book, Seeking God in Science, in which he-gasp-defends ID as an atheist, and thinks ID should be discussed in the science classroom as an illustration of some of the difficult questions that arise in philosophy of science.

I'm ashamed that as a self-proclaimed critical thinker I let myself be swayed by the emotional atheist rhetoric against ID. The truth is that I haven't really engaged with the ID writings in any depth, and at the very least I owe people like Dembski, Behe, Meyer, Denton and others the courtesy of careful consideration, more than they get from the hysterical mass media. I've always been about the quality of arguments. I couldn't care less if ID is creationism disguised as science, or whether there is a pernicious political agenda behind it. I want to know how good the arguments are. And I haven't really gone a long way towards doing that.

P.S. See here for another article where an atheist defends a design argument from inept objections

P.P.S. I've assembled a reading list of what I think are the most rigorous, sophisticated design arguments available here

Of course I've met many atheists in school who were part of the history of ideas program where I did my doctoral work. Most of them would not fall into the category of which I speak. But the those on the net tend to be non academics (maybe working class or white collar business or probably most of them are computer people). Few of them really seem to have any background in anything like Arts and Humanities. They are all very opinionated about how evil useless and stupid arts and humanities are, but they will express a fondness for art because it's pretty. Yet they have nothing but total contempt for any sort of idea that emerges from the realms of human thought governed by arts and humanities as a discipline.

Let's face it, most atheists on the internet think that the only form of knowledge is science. I suspect his is becasue very few of them went beyond the sophomore level in college and most of them are products of trade schools, the kind that advertise "you don't have to waste years learning all that book stuff just get 'hand's on' professional computer learning." Despite this bias against any form of knowledge that doesn't cater to their reductionism, they still feel that they know all about the things they have never studied.

Here is an example of one of them, Ross, who in the comment section demonstrates his utter contempt for any sort of liberal arts ideas:

First he quotes me to show what he's going to attack:


You said,

Of cousre if you are willing to only examine the surface, like a good little reductionist, then of course you are going to create the illusion that there's no God.

You never have to see what you do not wish to see.

I suppose he thought I was saying that he's not bright because he mistakes the term "shallow" for an appraisal of his intellectual abilities. Nothing was further from my mind. I admit I should have used more careful wording not to convey that impression. I just wasn't careful enough. What I really had in mind was that as materialist most atheists believe on in the surface of reality. A rose is a rose is a rose it has has no larger significance, no symbolic value relating to any higher metaphysical meaning. Everything is on the surface. There are elements we don't see but not because they are in other other dimensions or made out of spirit, but just because they are too tiny. In my mind this is surface level because its cutting off a connection with anything beyond, behind or above the material level.

Of course he's been angered because thinks I've said he's not deep as a thinker, which I did not mean to say. I apologize for creating that impression, but I think we can learn a lot from the nature of his response.

His first statement demonstrates true contempt for any form of thinking now sanctified by the ideology Dawkinista reductionism:

There is no reason to go beyond the surface in theology or philosophy of religion. Christianity has had lots of time, most of two millenia, to show even superficially that it offers hope to believers. It doesn't. You can shroud all your pretentions in obscurantist schlock, but in the end, whether you argue at the deepest levels your near-PhD can take you or stick to the shallows where the failures and defects of Christianity are well-lit, you will, just like every other failure of a theologian before you, arrive at nothing of use to practicing believers. You might have an article accepted for publication, but - and you know this to be true - it will, in all likelihood, never even be referenced unless you do it yourself.

Only someone who has never studied these subjects would try to say this. He's saying he doesn't have to study Philosophy because he knows it's stupid. We have seen this voiced in other ways around the net. The major one is the fallacious "Courtier's Reply" which is nothing more than a broad indictment that "your source of knowledge is not sanctioned by my ideology." As I put it on my blog:

Again their reasoning is quite circular since the reasons they would give for reducing religion to superstition don't' apply to modern sophisticated theology, but the fact that it can be labeled "theology" and they don't even know what that means, they stipulate that it must be stupid. So even though their reasons don't apply they just demand that they must do so any way.

Again they are merely stipulating truth and insisting they are right without any just reasons. It's idiotic to try and criticize a whole field you know nothing about. To make up for appalling ignorance they imply a third rate gimmick that is actually made up of two informal fallacies: ipsie dixit and circular reasoning. (Ibid: see link above)

This reminds me of an argument I had with an atheist once who asserted that all Christian theology is a about a big man in the sky, and ti's stupid to believe in a big man in the sky. I answered that Paul Tillich's theology explicitly denyies that God is a big man or even a being at all. Process theology certainly denys that as well (based upon Whitehead it defines God as a "community of occasions"--don't ask). This guy asserted that I was lying. I told him well I sutdied theology andyou apparenlty have not. He then said that's just the "Couriter's Reply" as though I had committed some kind of fallacy of logic. I repeated, "you are factally in error i gave two examples of schools of thoguht in theology that expclitly contradict what you calaim all Christian theology is about. He merely retorted that it didn't count because theology is stupid so whatever the answer is it must be wrong. So he expclictly just refussed to to accept a documented fatual correction to his error on the grounds that he can basically say anything he wants and doesn't have to know what he's talking about because he's armed with the catch phrase "Courtier's Reply."

Then he gets into ad hominem attacks:

Your degree is largely useless to you and the rest of mankind. Your degree offers you no tools for adding to or augmenting the vast store of accumulated human knowledge.

It's pretty obvious that any Ph.D. is useless in his eyes unless the upshot of having it is to back his ideology. Dawkin's Ph.D. is good because science is the only valid from of knowledge. But if you study the history of science, that's invalid becuase it doesn't give you the sacred gatekeeping knowledge of the white lab coat guy. Of course if he knew Dawkins was reallly a Mesuieum keeper and that his chair was not earned but purchased it might some difference, but I doubt it.

He continues the Ad Hom:

So, you, the near-PhD, hang out on an obscure blog hoping beyond hope that someone will engage you in a way that will at least let you think your pursuing the near-PhD was not a complete waste of time. If it was anything beyond a waste of your time and money, you could solve or at least address some real problem facing humanity. You would not be left wrestling with issues that matter to none but the few helping you waste yet more time working through those fantasy issues over a few beers.
I am so very worred that it might have been a waste of time to learn things. Does not tell us his attitude, and the attitude of a segement of atheists, toward learning? Why would I have to worry that learning "might be" a waste? Why wouldn't I know up front if I thought learning was a value? Why would learning be a waste? Does this not tell us that his value is not leanring and knoweldge, his value sysetm places very low capital upon actually knowing, but rewards some sort of socail use, perhaps making money, but more probably confirming the ideology that he is brain washed upon. Knowledge is only of value in direct proportion to it's confirmation of the ideology, it's ability to assure him that God looks less and less likely, thus to freem him from the fear of hell. Actually knowing for the sake of possessing knolwedge is clearly not part of his value system. Neither is understanding the things he critcizies. In my view there is no greater intellectual sin than to criticize that of which of you have no knowledge. For the idieolgoue the ultimate criticism is that an idea is not sanctified byt he ideology.

Sadly, your near-PhD does not even provide you with the intellectual wherewithal to respond to my comments in context. It's obvious, J. L., that you did not even attempt to ascertain the context. You quote-mined for fragments that you could attack, then dove right in.
This said by the guy who failed even once provide any focuss upon the issues. This is the guy who focusses totally upon the ad hom and whose one great point of attack is that I studied a feild that his ideology does not jstifying as valid knowledge.

If you had a valuable degree in a useful discipline, you would have been able to discern that I was not in any way trying to disprove the existence of your Christian god. You should have been able to see that the data I noted simply clarified the point that while Christians make their self-serving claims, the veracity of those claims is simply not born out by the data.

Of course I said nothing to imply that proving the existence of God had anything to do wit the issue. He took it that way because, well for obvious reasons. Of course here he's trying to have it both ways by first asserting that it' snot about proving the existence of God then he tries to imply that somehow the data speaks agains the exitence of God. Of coruse ther eis no data against the existence of God, this is nothing more than the height of ignorance.

What is at issue bottom line in this venting of hatred? why do they have to drag their proloterian sense of supirior intellect into it every singel time as though understanding the truth of the universe is the ultimate proof of one'd intellectual worth. As though somehow one's metaphysics is determined by one's IQ? I think this has to do their sense of powerlessness. They hate Ph.D.'s and learning and education and liberal arts becuase they identify it with elites, with an education they are not able to obtain. I've noticed many times that the real venting of hatred agsint Christians by atheists is often linked to this sense of powerlessness. It caters tot he sense of being a total minoirty of being looked down upon for views that castigate the vast majority of humanity.

I'm sure that all suited up in your near-PhD, you've got a million proofs for a million gods. I'm sure that any day now, Christians will no longer use the word, "faith" because your proofs will give them reason to use the word "know." I'm sure that for all of your new and improved near-PhD efforts, all Christians will have lives so distinctly superior to that of any non-Christian, that all people will immediately convert to the one true religion headmastered by the one true god.

Doesn't this tell us more about his value system? I mean when I was in the working world in my youth I often found that people on jobs just refused to believe me.It seemed the basci procedure was to doubt what any worker told them. I asked an older worker why this would be the case an he said "they lie, so they expect you to lie. They steal so they expect you to steal." I see the same psychology going on here. The only thing "knolwedge" means to the ideolgoically motivated atheist is a standardized justification for belief system. Its' not a matter of learning, not a matter of expanding horizons, not a matter of straching yourself and seeking truth it's must a matter of justifying the ideology so you don't have to feel inferior anymore. This is his motive for learning, thus he expects it to be my motive for learning.

Millions of people are starving, J.L., and your imaginary god will not do anything about. You will, no doubt, tell me that Christians will do what they can and give the credit to their god, and attribute to god's will all the deaths. If all the time wasted getting near-PhD's and playing big fish on little blog were turned to useful human endeavors, perhaps fewer people would die. But, then if we actually took care of each other, there would be nothing for gods to do, and we know that theology near-PhD's working the religion industry would never stand for that.

I think this really proves my point about power. He equates the lack of social power with his atheism, and the presence of elitism and social oppression with the belief his ideology has singled out as the target of ridicule and the scapegoat for personal failings and the villain which explains the powerlessness they feel in society. Of course since history is not valid knowledge they are totally ignorant of the Christian left which goes back all the way to the Time Chrsit and finds Christians leading peasant revolts, contributing to socialist, liberation, and freedom movements from Johachin of Flora in the middle ages, to the Peasants of south Germany to the underground rail road to the abolition movement and w omen's suffrage to the civil rights movement to Obama, who is a total contradiction to everything this guy connects up with Christianity as a social ill. Not only are the Christian activist groups a total disproof of his statement (and a much more significant contributor to liberation if he only read some history and knew where to look for them) but theology as well. He's totally missed the 60, 70s, 80s and even 990s where liberation theology guided all of Latin America into revolution, and all of Western Europe into socialism and all of Asia into Min Jung theology and has created liberation and hope for people around the world. All of this escapes his notice because to know anything about it he would have to know something about the forces of knowledge that his ideology writes off as unjustified.

How can it be that a movement that bill itself as "free thought" is really based upon an ideology that excluded 90% of human knowledge as invalid and only sanctions the learning of a tiny sliver of what goes on in the academy? its' because they are not free. Knowledge is power. Instead of learning this they have told themselves and been told "only science is knowledge." Knowledge is power but the only true knowledge is science and the only true science is that which justifies a naturalistic view point. That is neither free nor knowledge. It is ideology. The atheist community is hard at work distributing an anti-intellectual gospel wrapped up in the phony garb of intellectuals. Gee if I studied history I might come with knowledge of another movement that told powerless people they could be powerful if hey eliminated a certain group that caused all their problems and stood in their way. But of cousre that's on the menu of valid knowledge so we can't learn about it.

It should be pretty obvious at this point why the ideology seeks to destroy all forms of knowledge save that which contributes to it's own propaganda. If one were to really learn history and the liberal arts one would see through the ideology.

William Lobdell, the former religion reporter for the LA Times, has contributed a guest post to the Debunking Christianity blog. He notes that when he wrote his column he received many messages from 'closet' doubters and atheists, pastors included, who thanked him for having the courage to speak out even if they couldn't. Lobdell believes that this phenomenon is far more widespread than people think:

"Several recent studies have shown that there’s little difference in the moral behavior of evangelical Christians and atheists. I’d argue that’s because both groups don’t really believe, deep down, that God is real...I think there are so many closet doubters because people sense there’s no God who personally intervenes in their lives. But they can’t take the final step toward deism, agnosticism or atheism because the religious ties that bind us are thick. I know. I was a closet atheist for four years."

This assertion raises some interesting questions about the nature of religious belief and its effect on our behavior. I think it is best to approach this issue from the connection between belief and behavior in general. Cognitive science research increasingly demonstrates that the relationship between what we profess and what we actually do (or how we react) is very complex. People who claim not to be racists often betray an instinctive racial bias when asked to judge the hostility present in identical facial expressions of people of their own as well as different races. Despite countless warnings from peers and scientists that smoking is catastrophic to your health, people still become addicted to nicotine, often as a result of social pressure. People may have an irrational fear of flying even if they 'know' that statistically the chances of their own plane suddenly crashing are very small.

A more interesting and relevant set of examples comes from the study of what cognitive scientists call 'folk' biology and 'folk' physics. Aristotle thought that one had to apply a constant force in order to keep an object in motion. This is familiar from our experience because we so often deal with high-friction surfaces which impede objects' motion. But Galileo and Newton (and even before them Descartes) discovered that in the absence of friction, an object moving with a certain speed in a certain direction would remain in that state unless an external force acted on it. There are many other examples which demonstrate that we act according to a very different set of physical intuitions than scientists. Even scientists themselves who are well trained in thinking counter-intuitively about physical phenomena often rely on folk physics in their everyday life. The upshot is that we may know something to be true on the intellectual level yet instinctively react as if we didn't believe it.

So I would hesitate to jump to conclusions about the best explanation of similar moral behavior among evangelicals and atheists. Here's another important factor in this situation: It could well be that closet doubters have lost the sense of contact with a personal God, and no longer interpret events in their life as being part of God's plan for them. But it is far more likely that evangelicals and atheists behave similarly because they are all part of the same homogenized Western culture, caught up in the same middle-class lifestyle and facing similar problems and concerns. Psychologist Richard Beck has just begun a fascinating new series about the impact of the rise of the bourgeoisie mentality on theology. He notes:

the Western notion of personhood stresses autonomy, individualism, and interiority. This view of the self is relatively new and many theologians have noted its pernicious impact upon both theology and the life of the church...almost every pernicious spiritual practice we see today has its root in a notion of selfhood that prioritizes individualism over relationality, autonomy over interdependence, and interiority over community. So the question is: If this Western notion of identity is so bad where did it come from?...Christian and Marxist revolutions are often being preached at the bourgeoisie. But it is very unclear what the bourgeoisie are to do on Monday morning if they are to pay the rent. So they get up and go back to work. And that is the root dilemma of modern theology. People go back to work....And if they go back to work, church life is going to have to fit in around the edges of bourgeoisie existence. Church life or missional living is always going to be fighting over the scraps of what is left over from the bourgeois work week."

A Western middle class life is great in some respects: we are not exposed to the same life-and-death challenges that were routine for denizens of previous periods, such as famine, barbarian invasion, plague, etc. On the other hand, we no longer experience nature and society in the same way either. After long years of quietly moving through the confines of middle class existence, our worldview almost inevitably begins to resemble that of a drowsy gentleman after a heavy lunch, as Chesterton put it. We come to rely on the institutions of Western society instead of God, and faith is given lip service if any.

That has little to do with whether God exists or not. It has more to do with our acculturation to Western society. It is very hard to live consistently according to one's beliefs when one's everyday situation affords few opportunities to really do so. It requires discipline and community support. Of course this does not exhaust the questions raised by Lobdell's assertion, but it is an important thing to keep in mind.

In Part 1, I discussed whether Richard Carrier was wrong about his understanding of Romans 8:18-23, where Paul compares the redemption of Christian bodies with the redemption of creation itself ("the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God"). Rather than forfeit the point that the universe and the bodies of believers will be renewed at the resurrection, Dr. Carrier argues that Paul does not believe in the renewal of creation but rather in its complete destruction. The old world will be completely replaced by the new with no element of continuity.

A chief flaw in Dr. Carrier's argument, explored in Part 1, is his reliance on what he thinks other, later Christian writers meant when writing about the end of the world.

So there can be no doubt that the earliest Christians believed the present world would be annihilated and replaced with a new one, just as graphically described in 2 Peter 3:3-13, and clearly assumed in 1 John 2:15-17 and Heb. 12:26-39, 13:14. Paul must have shared this belief (why would he differ so radically from his peers), as he appears to have done.....

Carrier, The Empty Tomb, page 211 n. 160.

I also discussed how Dr. Carrier was wrong about the text of Paul in Romans 8 and that other early Christian authors clearly believed in continuity between the old and the new, although with radical transformation.

In this post, I take a closer look at the other, later Christian authors Dr. Carrier relies on for his argument. Thus, I will look at the three New Testament examples he offers to prove that other early Christian writers believed that there was no continuity between this world and the one to come after the return of Christ.

2 Peter 3:5-13:
For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water. But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.

This is by far the most interesting of Dr. Carrier’s examples and others have relied on it for the same proposition. For this reason, it is a useful example for examining how a renewed universe might be actualized and the use of apocalyptic language to describe that process. A common failing of commentators like Dr. Carrier who dismiss the “renewed universe” model is that they focus on the “continuity” and ignore the transformative nature of the renewal. It is not as if the universe simply receives a new coat of paint. The transformation is fundamental, not cosmetic. It is comparable to the radical transformation of the human body upon resurrection. There is some element of continuity, but the body is radically changed into a very different -- and superior -- form.

The passage from 2 Peter clearly envisions a destructive and cataclysmic event. But does it foreclose continuity? That is the real question here; otherwise we simply have radical transformation and renewal that is perfectly consistent with the plain meaning of Paul in Romans 8.

Too much can be made of terms like “destroyed." In the above passage, for example, Peter states that the “world” was “destroyed” by water during the Great Flood. Does this mean that the world was reduced to nothing and a completely different, unrelated world was created? Not at all. Rather, it means God destroyed the existing world system which was rotted with unrighteousness and ungodliness. There obviously was continuity, however, with not just Noah and his family and the animals with him, but in the rest of the material world. The material world was renewed through this destructive process, not ended.

So when Peter later in the passage describes the destruction of the earth by fire, we should keep in mind that for him this does not foreclose continuity. The discussion of melting and purifying is not meant to imply that nothing in the old universe has anything to do with the new one. Rather, it is a description of the process by which the old universe is transformed into the new one. Yes, there will be a “new earth,” but it is accomplished by a destructive and purifying process. It is no accident that the imagery calls to mind that of a blacksmith, burning and destroying metal ore to purify it, improve it, and craft it into something better and stronger.

In his Discourse on the Resurrection, Bishop Methodius (d. 311 A.D.), explained the relationship between the "end of the world" and the continuity of God's creation:

It is not satisfactory to say that the universe will be utterly destroyed and that the sea, earth, and sky will no longer exist. For the whole world will be deluged with fire from heaven and burned for the purpose of purification and renewal. However, it will not come to complete ruin and corruption. . . . [T]he earth and the heaven must exist again after the burning and shaking of all things . . . . There is no contradiction nor absurdity in Holy Scripture. For it is not ‘the world’ that passes away, but the 'fashion of this world.' . . . So we can look for creation to pass away, as if it were to perish in the burning, in order for it to be renewed. In that manner, we who are renewed may dwell in a renewed world without taste of sorrow. However, it will not be destroyed. . . . Now, since the earth is to exist after the present age, there must also be inhabitants for it.

From the Discourse on the Resurrection, Part 1, VIII.

Methodius had it right in his understanding of Paul and passages like 2 Peter 3. As Peter's use of "destruction" to refer to the flood illustrates, such terms do not foreclose some form of continuity. "The idea of the destruction of the antediluvian world need not be taken to mean total annihilation. Rather, just as it was created by being brought out of the primeval ocean, so it was destroyed when it was once again submerged in the primeval ocean. The ordered world reverted to chaos." Richard J. Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter (WBC), page 299. Moreover, the reference to the earth being "burned up" is better translated, "and be laid bare," as it is in the NIV. Bauckham, op. cit., pages 297-99. The focus is not on the mechanics of the process of the apocalypse on the material world, but rather on the judgment of the wicked.

Although 2 Peter 3 no doubt envisions a cataclysmic fate for the present universe, it does not foreclose some aspect of continuity. The transformation is radical, but reversion to primal origins is how God destroyed and restored the earth during the Great Flood and is how he will do it again, though by fire instead of by water. There was continuity then and there is continuity to come. It is not at all clear that this conflicts with Paul's vision of renewal. Remember that 2 Peter is focused on the fate of he wicked -- being judged and exposed -- whereas Paul's focus was on the fate of the Christian -- being transformed and resurrected. One is stressing judgment and hence destruction whereas the other is stressing salvation and hence transformation. Accordingly, 2 Peter should not be used as an example of Christian belief in the utter end of the universe with no continuity with the world to come.

1 John 2:15-17:
Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.

This passage adds little to Dr. Carrier's case. He simply misapprehends how the term "world" is being used in this passage. “The word kosmos here, as elsewhere in Johannine literature, refers to human beings, and often enough it refers to humanity organized against God, or in this case attitudes and things that are part and parcel of fallen humanity.” Ben Witherington, Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians, Vol. 1, page 478. This can be seen not only from passage such as "For God so loved the World" in the Gospel of John, but also in the Johannine letters. Just a few verses earlier in 1 John 2, John refers to the "sins of the whole world." (2.2). Later in the letter, John writes, "The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him." (3:1). He also admonishes his readers not to be surprised "if the world hates you." (3:13). There are many other examples. (See, e.g., 4:5; 4:14; 5:4; 5:5).

So the world "passing away" is not a reference to what will happen to the physical world during the end times. Rather, as Witherington notes, "the concern is to avoid the adoption of worldly attitudes and ways.” Witherington, op. cit., page 478. As the Gospel spreads, the world and its ways will recede. The "passing away" is an ongoing process that has already started and is moving forward. It is not a reference to a sudden, cataclysmic destruction of everything. Accordingly, this passage does not support Dr. Carrier's conclusion that this letter represents a Christian belief in the complete annihilation of the universe with no continuity with the one to come.

Heb. 12:26-29:
And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, "Yet Once More I Will Shake Not Only the Earth, But Also The Heaven." This expression, "Yet once more," denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, so that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.
Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.

For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come.

Many commentators have noted that the author of Hebrews shows aspects of Platonic influence not found in Paul's letters and other New Testament writings. This influence, however, does not supplant the letter's Jewish foundation. Rather, Platonic themes are subordinated to Jewish thought. Nevertheless, Paul has no comparable Platonic presence in his writing. For this reason alone, retro-interpreting Paul's views on the material's world's fate through the lens of Hebrews may not be as productive as Dr. Carrier thinks.

In any event, the passage does not foreclose material continuity between the age that is and the age that is to come. The thought either way may not have occurred to the author.

This phrase helps us understand how he Platonic worldview of Hebrews is placed within the frame of biblical symbolism. For Platonic cosmology, that which is material and of the body is transitory and corrupt, always coming into being and always going out of being, while that which is not material, the soul, remains steady, for it is eternal. We find the same contrast between the transitory and the permanent in Hebrews. But for our author, the distinction is not between matter and spirit as such, but between that which is created and that which participates in God. What “remains” (meine) therefore is not mental as opposed to the physical, but what ‘receives a share of God’s holiness’ (12:10), as opposed to things that do not enter into the ‘city of the living God.’ These are ‘not shaken’ (me saleuomena).

Luke T. Johnson, Hebrews, A Commentary, pages 335-36.

The author of Hebrews is less concerned with the material vs. spiritual dichotomy of other Platonic thinkers. For him the dividing line is not whether something is physical, but whether it is of God. "Hebrews exalts rather than denigrates the physical. Only because Jesus was and had a body could he be a priest." Luke T. Johnson, The Writings of the New Testament, page 422.

Nothing in the passage from Hebrews suggests that there will be no continuity between the material world that is and the new one that is to come. The referenced shaking is meant to call to mind to God's shaking by his presence and the giving of the law at Mt. Sinai. The shaking was not to separate the physical from the spiritual, but to separate what is of God from that which is not. Indeed, the passage at issue is not really even on topic for it does not purport to describe the process by which the new earth and the new heavens will arrive.

All told, the passages from 1 John and Hebrews provide no support for Dr. Carrier's two-body resurrection theory. The passage from 2 Peter is more suggestive, but ultimately fails as an example of Christian belief that foreclosed any continuity between the present world from that which is to come.

In his What Americans Really Believe, Rodney Stark has a chapter entitled The Godless Revolution That Never Happened. He notes several earlier predictions of the demise of religion and rise of atheism. Thomas Woolston, 1670-1731, thought religion would disappear by 1900. Voltaire, 1694-178, gave religion another fifty years. Though religion endured, the expectation of its imminent demise persisted. Other influential thinkers including Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Max Weber, and Émile Durkheim, all shared a similar view of declining religious belief.

In the 1960s, Anthony F.C. Wallace stated in a leading undergraduate anthropology textbook, "The evolutionary future of religion and in supernatural forces that affect nature without obeying nature's laws will erode and become only an interesting memory . . . belief in supernatural powers is doomed to die out, all over the world, as a result of he increasing adequacy and diffusion of scientific knowledge . . . the process in inevitable." Also in the '60s, sociologist Peter Berger stated, that by "the 21st century, religious beliefs are likely to be found only in small sects, huddled together to resist a worldwide secular culture . . . the predicament of the believer is increasingly like that of a Tibetan astrologer on a prolonged visit to an American university." Finally, the April 1966 issue of Time famously asked, "Is God Dead?" on its cover.

With a new wave of atheist best sellers, some skeptics may be getting heir hopes up again. Perhaps the end may not be as imminent as they had hoped, but surely there has been a steady growth of atheistic enlightenment as societies have become more educated and rational. Secularization, after all, must be inevitable.

What do the polls tells us? Stark offers the numbers from leading polling organizations since 1944, for those who do not believe in God:

4% -- 1944 (Gallup)
6% -- 1947 (Gallup)
3% -- 1964 (American Piety)
3% -- 1994 (GSS)
4% -- 2005 (Baylor/Gallup)
4% -- 2007 (Baylor/Gallup)

The number of atheists in the United States appears to be unchanged for at least 63 years, despite advances in science and secularization.

Ah, you might say, but I have read that the number of the non-religious, no religion, or irreligious has grown. This may be right, but does not tell us much about the growth of atheism. Stark notes that these numbers have climbed from 7 to 12% over the same time period, with the steepest uptick occurring during the 1990s.

There is, no doubt, some overlap. Obviously, most atheists are going to also agree that they have "No Religion" or are "Non-Religious." But most of those who answer No Religion or something similar do in fact believe in God or a higher cosmic power. 40% believed Jesus was the Son of God or a messenger of God. Half believe in angels, more than half pray, and almost half believe in ghosts. As it turns out, "What 'no religion' seems to mean to most who gives this response is that they reject conventional religions, but not supernaturalism of more exotic sorts--two thirds of them can be classified as New Agers." Stark, Chap. 17, What Americans Really Believe.

Atheism is not the foreseeable future.

Note: this article is something I posted up yesterday on another blog as part of my virtual book tour this month; but considering the tacit theological emphases, I thought I'd post it here, too.


I can't help but feel horribly depressed this time of year, for my own reasons. But true love would fix all that right? And everything would then have a happy ending, right?


Well, maybe. It depends--not on true love, but on me. The selfish side of my mind and soul, you see, is not really all that interested in true love. In fact, that part of me is scared spitless by true love. That part of me would much rather have someone who is addicted to me, and who lives as an extension of my life. True love is far more threatening.

The main heroine of my novel, Cry of Justice, endemically embodies this problem with my ego and pride and self-centeredness. Not that this is all she is and does; but whenever I preach I tend to preach against myself. {wry g} And bless her heart, Portunista often ends up saddled with being the exemplar of the worst parts of myself. This kind of preaching is going on, against that hellish attitude in the back of my mind, at the end of CoJ.

Writing from her hindsight, summing up her thoughts and feelings about how she was in the past (the main timeline of the story), Portunista assesses her greatest failure--in principle, and in practice:

Our choices affect the momentum of our minds--and I had chosen wrongly; and so my pride was once again at stake: my pride in my present, and in my future, and in myself.

I had convinced myself, once more, that [someone who truly loves her] was a threat.

And, indeed, he was. He was a threat to my self--the most dangerous threat one's self can face.

What I didn't understand--what I refused to understand--but what I understand now, is this:

There is a threat that enslaves the self, to another self. And this, I still believe, should be resisted, to the very blood.

But there is another threat.

It takes away the food of the self, gnawing upon the self, and gives to the self...

everything else.

The first, the hideous threat, resembles the other; making the hideous threat more hideous. But--the second threat should be accepted, when it is given, if it is given, if ever it is perceived; for much the same reason a mouth and tongue should eat, ideally of anything—except themselves.

How is that a threat?! Is it not glorious?!

Yes; it is glorious.

But, it means one's self must be dependent, after all, on something other than one's self.

And I, myself, refused to accept that truth--that threat.

If you know that someone truly loves you, please accept that love if you can, as much as you can this Valentine's Day.

Jason Pratt

In my latest article on Atheist Watch I show that the same organization that started the Jesus Project also started and runs Skeptical Inquirer magazine. I think this is a good indictment of the biases of that project.

I have added my review of Geza Vermes' The Resurrection: History and Myth to the CADRE site's Reviews of Books about the Historicity of the Resurrection article. The article contains reviews of 15 leading books on the resurrection of Jesus, from many different perspectives. It may be one of the most comprehensive collection of reviews of resurrection books on the internet.

The next Non Issue in Luke’s birth narrative is Joseph’s return to his ancestral home, Bethlehem, to register for the census. (I deal with the first Non Issue -- the scope of the Augustun decree --, here). Many commentators are completely dismissive, conjuring up images of an empire-wide census requiring everyone to return to the city of their ancient ancestors. E.P. Sanders, for example, claims that "the entirety of the Roman Empire would be uprooted by such a decree" and asks, "Why should Joseph have had to register in the town of one of his ancestors forty-two generations later?" The Historical Figure of Jesus, pages 86-87.

Paying closer attention to the Gospel of Luke itself, however, reveals that the author is careful not to describe the census itself as requiring registration in one's ancestral home. Rather, Luke only references any ancestor when noting that Joseph registered in Bethlehem because he was of the House of David. When referring to the census itself Luke notes that in response to the decree people were returning to each one's "own city."

Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child.
Luke 2:1-5.

Luke does not say that everyone has to return to the home of their distant ancestors. Rather, he says that each person was registering in “his own city” and that Joseph registered in Bethlehem, “because he was of the house and family of David.”

A close reading of Luke reveals that the premise upon which Sanders bases his reconstruction is without foundation in the text. Nowhere does Luke say that the census of Quirinius required people to travel to the home of their ancestors. On the contrary, the text reads, "the decree went out . . . that the whole world should be registered.” It does not say how or where. . . . There is nothing in the narrative of Luke which departs from common practices. Rather, he simply describes the perfectly normal response of the people to the decree: "All went to their own towns to be registered."

Mark D. Smith, "Of Jesus and Quirinius," Catholic Biblical Quarterly 62 (2000), page 289.

If Joseph was not required to travel to Bethlehem by the mere fact of his blood line, why did he? What was it about being of the House of David that would have made Bethlehem his "home city" in some way, assuming Luke considers that description to apply? Luke does not specify the connection. For his story, the important point he wanted to emphasize is that Joseph was a descendant of King David. A plausible, perhaps likely, answer seems to be that because of his family's association with Bethlehem, Joseph owned property in or near Bethlehem.

One of the deans of Lukan studies, I. Howard Marshall, reaches this conclusion.
Although Luke does not make it clear, it must be presumed that Joseph had some property in Bethlehem. It is unlikely that everybody would have been compelled to return to their ancestral homes, but in view of Joseph’s Davidic descent, which is more important for his story, Luke has stressed this aspect of the matter.

I. Howard Marshall, Commentary on Luke, NIGTC, page 101-03.

Dr. Richard Carrier of the Secular Web and reaches a similar conclusion: that Luke means to suggest that Joseph had some property in or near Bethlehem.

[I]t is very doubtful that Luke would use a system of census taking that his every reader would know didn't exist--certainly, his apologetic aims would fail if his "explanation" held no water. Therefore, there must have been something to it--for even if fiction, it had to play on some fact or else the lie would be obvious to everyone. At the very least, we can suppose many Jews believed they could trace a lineage to some ancestor in the town of their family land, so as to justify their belonging there and to secure their claim in perpetuity, not to mention the mere glory of tracing one's line to some tribal hero (many Greeks and Romans did just the same). We can suppose that Luke believed (or wanted his readers to believe) that Joseph had family land in Bethlehem, and that this was because it was a portion of David's land, and since Jewish Law required the return of sold land every fifty years (Lev. 25:10-28), it was impossible to ever be dispossessed of it--thus, it might have seemed obvious to every Jew that any family plot could be traced to an ancient owner, even if this really wasn't the case. And as noted in the text above, residing outside the taxed area would not exempt any landowner from taxation or the related census so long as he held any property or citizenship in the taxed region.

Those who assume that Luke describes a census that requires everyone to travel to the home town of their distant ancestors is paying insufficient attention to the text. Luke deliberately moves from the general to the specific. He describes a census requiring people to be registered. He then notes that in general people were returning to their "own city" to register. He then notes that Joseph traveled to Bethlehem to register. It seems the general rule is that people be registered in their own town and that is what they did. For Joseph, because he was of the House of David, he chose to register in Bethlehem. Whether this is because he had grown up there, had an interest in property in or near there, or wanted to maintain his status in good standing as a descendant of King David, Luke does not specify. This is hardly surprising as the connection itself is of no consequence. What is important to Luke and his readers is that Jesus was born in Bethlehem and that his legal father, Joseph, was a descendant of King David.

In an earlier post, I noted that Obama had taken what I (and many in the pro-life movement) believe to be an extreme position by signing an executive order that reversed President Bush's earlier order prohibiting federal money to be given to organizations that perform or counsel abortions. I opined that such a move was not good.

In the comments to that post, one reader named "A Hermit" argued:

[S]ince the majority of Americans in polls regularly express their support for women's right to control what happens inside their own bodies it is you who are in opposition to what Americans think their tax dollars should support.

I responded:

Now, with respect to the polling -- yes, more Americans claim to be somewhat pro-choice (by margins mostly within the margin of error), but those that believe that they should always be legal are in the distinct minority. Moreover, I know of no poll where a majority of Americans approve of the government funding abortions. Do you have one?

To my reading, there was no response to that question.

But now Gallup has fortunately answered my question. According to an article entitled Poll: Majority Of Americans Oppose Obama On Abortion in the Bulletin, the American public convincingly rejects the reversal of the Mexico City Policy which had prohibited such funding in the Bush administration.

[W]hen it comes to one of his first acts as the 44th president — publicly funding overseas abortion providers — the American public unmistakably rejects the policies of Barack Obama.

According to a new poll released yesterday by Gallup, just 35 percent of those polled agreed with Mr. Obama’s decision to reverse the Mexico City and permit the use of U.S. tax dollars to fund family planning organizations that provide abortions.

Assuming that the majority of the Americans are pro-choice (which is not necessarily true), the early polls show that the American people are solidly opposed to the reversal of the Mexico City Policy (inaptly named the "Global Gag Rule" by opponents). For a politician who ran on the platform of bi-partisanship, President Obama certainly seems inclined to care little for public opinion that opposes his stated (and extreme) views favoring abortion.

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