CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

When asked what he would say if upon death he found himself in the presence of God, Bertrand Russell famously replied that he would complain about the lack of evidence for His existence in this life. It is a common enough skeptical objection: if God really wanted people to come to a saving relationship with Him, why didn't He supply more obvious evidence of His reality?

It sounds plausible at first, but there are quite a few situations in which people have all the evidence they need to make an important decision, yet fail to act upon it.

Take smoking for example. The medical evidence is unanimous that smoking is a horrible habit and that it destroys your health, and often leads to deathly cancer. And this evidence is everywhere, printed on every single carton of cigarettes sold at legal outlets. The would-be smoker and the one who already smokes are both inundated with this evidence wherever they go. There are, to be sure, advertisements which make smoking out to be a 'sexy', alluring habit, but it's hard to believe that anyone really thinks that the social advantages of smoking mitigate against the disastrous medical consequences.

So if bountiful, clear evidence was all people needed to make the right decision, no one would smoke, or at least smoke for very long. But of course millions of people continue to smoke, often for their whole lives, and continue to get sick and die from it. What good was all that evidence to them? It seems that people find ways to rationalize away even the strongest evidence for a course of action they are not willing to undertake. When people break the habit, it is usually not because they have suddenly come across all the medical research detailing how harmful smoking is, but because they reach a critical moment in which the truth they had been suppressing suddenly dawns on them. It is more about a transformation of the will than the intellectual accumulation of evidence.

I am still sympathetic to those whose intellect gets in the way of embracing Christianity. I experience the anguish of the 'not enough evidence' protest often enough myself. Am I really supposed to radically commit myself to a worldview that promises discomfort and conflict in this life, when I am not 100% sure that it is true? But then I get to thinking, what if I and everyone else are more like smokers than we care to admit? What if for some reason we just don't want Christianity to be true, so that we would rationalize away even the strongest, clearest evidence for God's existence?

I don't know that the above considerations actually strengthen the evidential case for Christian theism, but at the very least they should give pause to those who press the 'not enough evidence' objection too far.

Derek Flood, whose article on penal substitution in the early Church Fathers I recently summarized, just posted on why he thinks the historical study of Jesus is a waste of time. In this post I will argue, on the contrary, that Flood's criticisms are misplaced and that historical research is a valuable undertaking for the committed Christian.

Flood begins by affirming the value of researching the historical context of the New Testament (which might be summarized as 'background research'): "We want to understand the context of the writers of the NT so that we do not simply impose our doctrinal and cultural biases onto the text but actually hear what the NT authors are telling us." Presumably this includes the study of the original languages, ancient literary genres and techniques, Jewish and Greco-Roman culture, etc. Anything that goes into retrieving the original meaning of the NT texts.

But Flood has a problem with historical research which, "rooted in the assumptions of the historical-critical method, presents a view of Jesus that is deliberately opposed to the message of the New Testament." He cites as an example the attempt to separate authentic from inauthentic words of Jesus in the Gospels, which often involves a distinction between words that presuppose the occurrence of the resurrection (rejected as inauthentic), and words that plausibly originated in a pre-resurrection understanding of Jesus (or rather, an understanding of Jesus which did not yet affirm his resurrection, the assumption being that such an understanding is more likely to be accurate). To Flood this does not make sense because the resurrection was the key that allowed the early Christians to unpack Jesus' true significance: "All the stuff that Jesus said and did leads up the cross and the resurrection. It gives us the context for understanding the cross and what it means, and at the same time it was only afterJesus rose that they could look back and say, 'Ooooh, now I get it!'"

This leads to his culminating indictment against historical Jesus research:

Now the historical search instead ignores the resurrection and wants to reconstruct a hypothetical version of Jesus as if there was no resurrection. In doing this they need to reject the entire point of the Gospel writers and toss out their message, calling it 'inauthentic'. Thus they present a version of Jesus that Peter, Paul and John never believed in. Indeed most of the time in their so-called historical reconstruction Jesus either ends up coincidentally look[ing] like a reflection of these scholars, or a version of Jesus emerges that these scholars themselves can't do anything with and themselves reject as 'not compatible with the modern worldview.' As a result this 'historical' study does not help us understand the NT better, [because] it begins by rejecting the [most basic] assumption of the NT: the resurrection.

(Note: at certain points I have modified Flood's wording to better convey what I think his meaning was, because in the post as it stands it was a little confusing to me)

Now there are two basic criticisms here, and we need to keep them separate: one is that historical research inhibits our understanding of the NT by rejecting its fundamental presuppositions, and for the same reason it results in a portrait of Jesus which is opposed to that of the NT.

I think the first criticism is plainly mistaken, because determining the meaning or message of a text is a separate task from judging its truth or falsity. It may be that not sharing someone's beliefs or finding them strange or abhorrent makes one prone to misunderstanding or caricature, but there is no obstacle in principle to coming to an accurate understanding of a message one does not believe in. Classical scholars can arrive at a nuanced and accurate view of Homer's theology without themselves accepting it. But there is a vagueness in Flood's objection here because he is not opposed to background research, in fact he thinks it is essential to avoid anachronistic readings. The real objection seems to be that any historical reconstruction which deviates from the story told by the NT misunderstands it because that story is the correct understanding. But at this point in the argument that is simply question-begging: it could very well be that the NT's own understanding of the significance of Jesus is a misunderstanding and needs to be corrected, which leads to the second criticism.

Before I go on, however, a brief overview of the historical-critical method is apropos. In essence, historical criticism is a sub-species of literary criticism, which focuses specifically on texts that purport to be historical. Literary criticism begins by asking some basic, common-sensical questions of a text: what is its provenance (who wrote it, where and when) and what is its genre (what kind of information does the text provide, and what is its purpose). Historical texts are those which claim to provide accurate information about events which unfolded in the past (in the ancient world this does not necessarily mean that the events recounted took place exactly as described: for example, a historical biography could include the recounting of an action or speech by the subject which did not take place in exactly that way, but was nevertheless characteristic of that person, thus providing accurate information about that person's character and abilities).

Historical criticism involves judging whether the text's claim to accuracy is justified, whether we should trust the account in its portrayal of certain events. Here information on provenance is crucial (which allows us to determine whether the author was in a position to know about the events recounted), as is the ability to compare the account with other accounts of the same events and with material (epigraphical, archeological) evidence from the relevant period. Internal considerations are also important: is the account internally consistent, or do we suspect that it is a composite document forged from partially or wholly divergent sources?

It should be obvious that this task is essential if we are to arrive at a true and accurate understanding of the past. When Josephus gives us information about the Jewish War, we want to know whether we can trust it, and we read Josephus looking for information that will allow us to make that judgment. The same goes for Tacitus, Pliny the Elder and any other authors who claim to give us historical information. Accordingly, since the Gospels also claim to be giving us true information (about Jesus and his significance), we should read them through the lens of historical criticism with an eye to being able to make the same judgment. It is an obvious and completely sensible question to ask: do the Gospels give us an accurate portrait of Jesus?

Historical research becomes controversial, of course, when we try to elucidate the grounds for suspecting or concluding that a historical text is inaccurate. These generally fall into two categories: external and internal. External grounds would include presuppositions about the plausibility of certain events, information from other accounts of the same events (or even the absence of other accounts) and lacking or contradictory information concerning the text's provenance. Internal grounds would include questions of consistency and style: does the author claim to be providing accurate information while writing in a style more reminiscent of satire or mythology?

Flood's allusion to the 'assumptions' of the historical-critical method, together with his specific reference to the rejection of the resurrection, suggests that he shares the suspicion many Christians have of the historical-critical method: that it rules out a priori the accuracy of any account describing a miraculous, divine intervention. I would certainly agree with him that a priori judgments are unacceptable, but there are other grounds for doubting the accuracy of a historical text that must be taken seriously. Christians certainly do not doubt the Book of Mormon, for example, just because it recounts supernatural events or because it was handed down supernaturally, things which they affirm of the Bible! Questions are also raised about the lack of archeological confirmation, discrepancies in its depiction of pre-Columbine American culture, etc.

I suspect that the real question Flood is asking is whether it could ever be legitimate to 'go behind' the New Testament and try to arrive at a portrait of Jesus which diverges from the evangelists' understanding. I would say the answer is clearly yes. It is entirely possible, as I said before, that the NT understanding of Jesus is a misunderstanding, and the information they give us about him inaccurate. That this would be unpalatable to those who share that understanding has no bearing on its truth, any more than Mormons' discomfort with historians' doubts about the Book of Mormon is a reason to discount those doubts.

When a historian judges a historical text inaccurate, it is often possible to construct an alternative account of the events it describes, together with an explanation for how testimony to those events became distorted. That this account diverges from that of the text itself does not make the enterprise incoherent. Even if the canonical Gospels are our best sources for the historical Jesus that does not mean we are bound to accept their portrait of Jesus in our historical reconstructions (sometimes even the best is not good enough!). It is often possible to read between the lines of a suspicious text for evidence of ideological tampering, etc. Of course people can become suspicious of a text too easily or for the wrong reasons (for example, an a priori rejection of the possibility of the miraculous), but sometimes suspicion is justified, and the responsible historian will try to discover the truth behind tendentious or misleading accounts.

Some people (and I imagine Flood would be among them) object to the term 'historical Jesus' and the search for him because it seems to presuppose a disjunction between that figure and the 'Christ of faith' that the creeds proclaim. But this objection again is misplaced. Perhaps in many cases historical Jesus scholars have assumed this divergence from the outset, but of itself the historical-critical method does not require or even suggest this. Actually there are two opposite errors in the historical study of Jesus: one is to assume at the outset that historical research will uncover a portrait of Jesus radically different from the orthodox one, the other is to assume that historical research will confirm the identity of the historical Jesus and the Christ of faith. The key here is to realize that the orthodox or NT portrait of Jesus is only one of many portraits of Jesus that are possibly true. The responsible historian should not assume in advance that any of them will turn out to be true, in advance of examining the actual evidence using the historical-critical method.

Now I happen to think that historical research does confirm the orthodox portrait of Jesus, and that the resurrection of Jesus is the best explanation for the rise of Christianity. But nothing about the historical method itself would cause me to assume that in advance of scholarly investigation.

It seems to me that Flood's objections only have purchase if one already knows that the NT understanding of Jesus is the correct one, so any reconstruction which diverges from it is by definition incorrect. Significantly, the grounds on which Flood accepts the accuracy of the NT portrait of Jesus are experiential rather than historical: "I find life when I read the gospels and the NT because it brings me into the same encounter of God in Christ that the New Testament authors had...The message of the gospel brings life. In contrast to this the message of these historians brings doubt, cynicism and darkness." This might be a legitimate way to the truth of the Gospels (NT Scholar Luke Timothy Johnson, for one, endorses it or something very similar), but if doubts are raised on historical grounds about the accuracy of the Gospels, Christians should examine these potential defeaters on historical or philosophical grounds, not dismiss them because they challenge faith.

This brings us to the reason why historical research is not a waste of time for Christians: as I said previously, the orthodox understanding of Jesus is only one of many possible understandings. It is incumbent upon Christians to show that their understanding is the most plausible, whether on historical or philosophical grounds (or both), or at the very least show that it is a legitimate option in the marketplace of ideas. Even if many people come to faith via a non-evidential route (for example, they receive some immediate impression of God's reality and forgiveness), if there are evidential defeaters for the faith they must be dealt with, otherwise one's faith will be schizophrenic: in the Christian's heart she may 'know that my Redeemer lives', but her head might be screaming objections.

When it comes down to it, any decision for or against the Christian faith must include answering the question of whether or not the Gospel portraits of Jesus can be trusted. There could be multiple grounds for confidence or suspicion, among which are specifically historical grounds, having to do with the evidence that we have for Gospel authorship, dating, provenance, genre, corroborating accounts, etc. It is a valuable enterprise for Christians to look for and present the historical evidence for the Christian faith. Nothing about the historical-critical method demands that it arrive at a reconstruction which diverges from the NT understanding. At the same time, one can come to an accurate understanding of the NT without accepting its fundamental presuppositions.

In August, neilgodfrey posted on a question: "Do mythicists read Paul's references to Jesus's humanity as interpolations or metaphors?" As for interpolations, which is the focus of this post, Neil helpfully answers "No." Indeed, Neil claims "This is another misinformed assertion advanced by some who appear never to have read mythicist publications. " He then notes one interpolation from Thessalonians for Dr. Price and does not mention Earl Doherty at all. He corrects himself in the comments, noting one interpolation entertained by Doherty. Ultimately, Neil claims, "The only interpolations singled out in Paul’s letters by anyone who advances a mythical Jesus (at least from my readings) are those that are strongly argued to be interpolations by scholars who have expressed no interest in mythicism, and who almost certainly would accept a “historical Jesus”."

Earl Doherty

Doherty himself seems sensitive on this point. In a response to JP Holding, Doherty referred to his "two claims for interpolations." I blogged on how that number kept growing the more reader responses and articles on his old website that I read, here. It appears the Doherty has changed the links so they do not work anymore, but I quoted his position on most of the examples.

Here are the interpolations in the NT epistles that Doherty has entertained in support of his theory:

  • 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16 (getting rid of a reference to Jewish involvement in Jesus' death)
  • Timothy 6:13 (getting rid of a reference to Pilate).
  • Galatians 1:19 (getting rid of a reference to Jesus' brother, James).
  • Galatians 4:4 (getting rid of a reference to Jesus being "born of a woman, born under the law").
  • 1 Timothy 6:3 (getting rid of a reference to the "wholesome teachings of Jesus Christ").
  • Hebrews 13:7 (getting rid of a reference to "leaders" who taught them the "word of God").
  • Hebrews 13:20 (getting rid of a reference to Jesus' resurrection).
  • Corinthians 6:9 (getting rid of a reference to the brothers of Jesus).
  • Romans 1:3 (getting rid of a reference to Jesus being "born of a descendant of David, according to the flesh") (As I note on my blog, Doherty kind of punts to Ehrman on this but leaves the possibility hanging).
But why are we limiting this to NT epistles? Doherty racks up the interpolation count when we turn to troublesome passages in non-New Testament writings:
  • Doherty rejects the two passages in Josephus' Antiquities which refer to Jesus: 18 (the Testimonium) and 20 (reference to "James, the brother of Jesus, the so-called Christ"). 

  • Doherty has argued that Tacitus' reference to Christians in Annals may be an interpolation. 

  • Doherty argues that 11:2-22 in the Ascension of Isaiah is an interpolation. 

  • Doherty appears to argue that all references in the Ascension of Isaiah to "Jesus" or "Christ" in Chapters 6-11 are later additions. 

  • Doherty has argued that the reference to John as the author of the Gospel of John by Theophilus of Antioch, Book II, ch. 22, is an interpolation.
  • Doherty suggests in footnote 83 of his book that Pliny the Younger's reference to Christians could be an interpolation.
I think that easily puts us over 15 suggested/entertained interpolations for Doherty's Jesus Myth case. And note that this is not just a general survey by Doherty looking for interpolations in relevant writings -- as is the case with William Walker, who Neil references -- but are just the passages that are most obviously troublesome for Doherty's mythicist case. Obviously, as Neil notes regarding the one Doherty interpolation to which he concedes, Doherty usually has back up arguments; but my evaluation is a much more realistic picture of how often this prominent Jesus Myther is willing to play the interpolation card.

I suppose Neil might argue that some of the above is not in the Pauline Corpus, which is true as far as it goes, but I am skeptical that artificially reducing the sample size helps his main point. I found these examples over three years ago, so I am skeptical about Neil's "trust me" assessment on whether the mythicist proponents resort to interpolations to buttress their case. The passage of time also means that the number of interpolations entertained by Doherty may have increased (or, that he has withdrawn some from consideration). In any case, I find it unlikely that all of these interpolations are "strongly" argued by a significant number of New Testament scholars to be interpolations. Not even Walker agrees with the Romans and Galatians suggested interpolations (and I don't know that he has addressed Hebrews and 1 Timothy at all).

Robert Price

Regarding Robert Price, I have not done a similar overview of his interpolation appeals. I have responded in an article and on the CADRE blog to his argument that 1 Cor. 15:3-11 is an interpolation. When Dr. Price responded to my posts (I posted the e-mail exchange, here), he claimed that William Walker agreed with him that 1 Cor. 15:3-11 was an interpolation. I then e-mailed Dr. Walker to ask him about this, and he denied making this assertion or concluding that 1 Cor. 15:3-11 is an interpolation (he hasn't opined either way). Dr. Price also noted that others had concluded that this passage is an interpolation, but I was unimpressed with his references to G.A. Wells and Arthur Drews. He also referred to J.C. O'Neill, who was a New Testament scholar but was also famous for being interpolation-happy. Interestingly, Richard Carrier rejects the idea for the most part. So, while I cannot gauge the number of interpolations Dr. Price appeals to in support of his mythicist case, I am confident that this particular one is not "strongly" argued by a significant number of New Testament scholars to be an interpolation.

This is the fourth installment of my series exploring the issue of the genre of the Gospel of John. My first post on John's genre explored the expressed authorial intent and audience reception. The intent to impart "truth" and eyewitness accounts pointed to the genre of ancient biography or historiography. The second post dealt with John's subject matter, which focused on the life and significance of Jesus, and concluded that this strongly pointed towards the genre of ancient biography. In the third post, I concluded that the prologue of the Gospel of John reinforces the analysis pointing towards the genre of ancient biography, both in its content and as a literary device.

This post will analyze the chronological framework and use of time in the Gospel of John as a genre indicator. On the face of it, the Gospel of John does not seem to differ all that much from the other Gospels in its chronological framework. They narrate the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, up through his death and resurrection. The Gospel of John, however, provides more precise dating of the chronology than the other Gospels (though Luke, as with other ancient historiography, pinpoints his narrative in the broader chronology of the Roman Empire). John refers to a number of chronological pinpoints, such as Jewish festivals and specific references to numbers of days related to events in the narrative.

The chronological indications are primarily the named Jewish festivals: three Passovers (2:13; 6:4; 12:55) and the feats of Tabernacles (7:2) and Hanaukkah (10:22) between the second and third Passovers. In additional, there are the two weeks of counted days, one at the outset of Jesus’ story (the week of his manifestation: 1:19-2:11), the other the last week of his story (the week of his glorification: 12:1-20:25). Since a large part of the action takes place either at named temple festivals or in strict relation to the last of them, a large part of the Gospel’s whole narrative is very precisely dated.
Bauckham, The Testimony of the Beloved Disciple, at 100.

John also “ties the whole sequence of precise dates from the first Passover onward to an absolute dating, when ‘the Jews’ at the first Passover say, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years.’ (2:20). The starting date may be obscure to us, but it was evidently not to the author. There seems to be no explanation of the precise figure here (forty-six years) other than a claim, at least, to precise chronology.” Bauckham, op. cit., page 100. Only the Gospel of Luke has any comparable interest in pinpointing its narrative by time references.

This is reminiscent of ancient historiography, which -- as Bauckham quotes Lucian as advising -- should "follow a chronological arrangement as far as he can." (Ibid., page 100 (De Historica Conscribenda, 101)). Such a chronological framework, however, was not typical of biographies.

Through the body of each Synoptic Gospel is not difficult for readers to realize that the apparent chronological sequence is a narrative convention covering a frequently topical, rather than chronological, ordering of material. It was not uncommon for ancient biographies to deploy chronology only at their beginning and end, arranging the interesting material topically and not always with any clear principle. This was almost the rule for lives of philosophers and artists.... It is surely the case that the prevalence of precise chronology in the Gospel of John would have made it look, to competent contemporary readers, more like historiography than the Synoptics.
Bauckham, op. cit., page 101.

Now that we have addressed ancient historiography and biographies, what about ancient novels? They certainly follow a sequence of events, but do they have a comparable focus on chronology and dating their events as we find in the Gospel of John? It appears that ancient novels do not and are very different than what we find in the Gospel of John.
One important element of historical writing, however, is conspicuously missing from the novels: dating. None of the extant novels specifies a particular year or other chronological reference point situating their narratives in the historical timeline. Although readers can extrapolate a rough idea of a given’s novel’s temporal situation, the novels essentially float in time, untethered to particular historical events.
Lawrence Kim, “Time,” in The Oxford Companion to the Greek and Roman Novel, ed. Tim Whitmarsh, page 147. Indeed, Kim notes the “Greek novelists’ aversion to mentioning their historical present.” Ibid., page 148. Time is an issue to the novelist in a sense, but it is what Kim describes as "adventure time." References to months, seasons, and years are rare. Ibid. “The days and nights are rarely broken down into smaller units of time; the hour in its durational usage (‘for an hour’) appears only in Petronius ... and temporal expressions such as ‘at mid-day’ ... or ‘around the first watch of the night’ ... are only occasionally employed.” Ibid. In adventure time, the focus is on the story and its purposes rather than specific dates, times, or even time periods. "Any connection with specific events, practices or places would restrict the power of chance essential to the adventure time.” Ibid., page 153.

The Gospel of John's chronological framework points more towards historiography than biography and ancient novel. Until this point in the series, the genre indicators have weighed heavily in favor of ancient biography, with some indicators also being consistent with ancient historiography. The chronological framework of John is the first indicator that so strongly indicates ancient historiography. Nevertheless, the cluster of indicators favors ancient biography with indications of ancient historiography. This should come as no surprise, as ancient biographies could be on a sliding scale with one end bending more into historiography.

Over the past couple of months my primary output on CADRE has been concerning Christian doctrinal disputes, mostly about the atonement, but also a piece on the Genesis creation account and theistic evolution. This prompted a critical reaction by Steve Hays over at Triablogue, leading to a series of exchanges which grew increasingly acrimonious. The most recent exchange in particular ended on a very sour note.

I don't want this to continue. These exchanges have obscured the fact that for all the doctrinal differences among their members, Triablogue and CADRE are both committed to defending the truth of the Gospel. I have been greatly inspired and encouraged by the top quality apologetics produced by Steve Hays, Paul Manata and Jason Engwer in particular. I consider them brothers in the faith, but in my frustration and anger I have said things about and to Steve Hays, including in our very last exchange, which were not deserved and don't reflect my true attitude towards him.

I have also realized that I have been using CADRE as a sketchpad for my own personal doctrinal musings. Although my own doctrinal views are far from settled (aside from the fundamentals of the faith, as summarized in the Nicene Creed), I have used absolute language in some of my posts which gave the impression that I could see no other option for the thinking Christian on these matters. It is a personal weakness of mine that I get too excited about some new line of thought, and I am too easily taken in by others' arguments when they line up with my own personal predilections. But CADRE is not the right forum for these musings. It is a forum for the building up of the Christian community through the defense of Gospel essentials, such as the historicity of the Gospels and the resurrection, responses to atheist apologetics, etc.

So before the cycle of responses and counter-responses starts again, rather than defend myself I just want to apologize for this breech in the gap between Triablogue and CADRE, and announce that I will stop posting on Christian doctrinal disputes, and even interacting with doctrine-oriented posts written by others, whether here or at Triablogue. I will wait until I have a substantial, nuanced, exegetically based formulation of my doctrinal positions before I comment on those issues again. Meanwhile, I will go back to focusing on biblical apologetics and philosophy of religion here on CADRE.

The New Testament is unanimous in affirming that there are only two final destinies for all people: either the enjoyment of eternal life with God in a new heavens and a new earth, or the 'eternal destruction' of the lake of fire. For theological paradigms in which God's retributive justice is ultimate, this separation is entirely on the basis of one's works, in accordance with the principle of 'just deserts': everyone gets what's coming to them. Those who did well are granted eternal life, while those who did evil are sent into the lake of fire.

The immediate problem is that the notion of just deserts seems incompatible with there being just two ultimate destinies, because in this scenario the penalty for doing evil completely annuls any reward a person might receive for doing good. On some accounts, even the smallest sin, the most seemingly innocuous white lie is enough to condemn a person to eternity in hell, while nothing good that a person does can counter-balance that sentence. At this point the proponent of retributive justice might object that it is not just individual acts of sin that are culpable, but an overall, settled rebellion against God and His will over the course of an entire lifetime. But there is still the problem that in this scheme good acts are not rewarded, except perhaps as a mitigation of one's sentence in hell. But given the overall hopeless and miserable state of those in hell, and the intensity of the New Testament's contrast between the two destinies, this does little to absolve the scheme of injustice according to the standards of 'just deserts'.

Of course I have not taken into account the work of Christ in this scenario: proponents of penal substitution will say that all those who believe in Christ's atoning work on the cross are counted righteous because Christ's deserved righteousness (deserved because he was totally faithful and obedient to God, even to the point of death) is imputed to them. It is on this basis alone that believers will be acquitted on the last day, with a spotless record of good works. But the above problem remains with regard to the unbelievers, who certainly have done many good works in the form of giving to the poor, caring for the sick, fighting for justice and selflessly sacrificing themselves for others. On the two destinies scheme, when coupled with the principle of strict retribution, they most certainly do not receive 'just deserts' for any of these good deeds, since their eternal destiny was entirely determined by the evil that they did. The idea of one person's experience of eternal hell being more tolerable than that of another person's on the basis of the former's good works seems incoherent and incompatible with the severity of the sentence according to Jesus (there are passages in which Jesus speaks of it being, e.g. more tolerable for certain towns he visited than Sodom and Gomorra on the day of judgment, but I suspect he had a different meaning in mind, which I will expound on below).

Am I suggesting then that a person could merit salvation solely on the basis of good works, that if a person achieved a certain optimum ratio of good to bad works then salvation should be guaranteed? By no means! On the contrary, I am suggesting that perhaps it is unwise to think of the final judgment in terms of strict retribution.

Now the Bible does speak of people being judged 'according to their works' on the last day, and Paul affirms in no uncertain terms that those who do evil will not inherit the kingdom of God. So how could the judgment be based on any principle other than a retributive one?

To answer this question we must first think about what it really means for God to once and for all intervene to put the world right, to do away once and for all with injustice and evil. In the eschatological kingdom there is no space whatsoever for anything destructive, anything the least bit devious or out of harmony with God's perfect justice, which in its broadest sense means the world functioning exactly as it was meant to function in the beginning. God's restorative justice takes many forms at the end of history, some benefits of which are felt in the here and now: the forgiveness of sins, the healing of diseases and illnesses, the annulment of the 'sting' of death, etc. But it also means, of course, the complete annihilation of anything that stands in the way of God's justice, as Revelation affirms of the beast, the false prophet, and even death and hell themselves. Since God means to completely do away with the old order of sin and death, no vestige can remain of that old order.

Now this is truly an either/or scenario: either you are entirely on the side of God's restorative justice, passionately longing for God's will to be done on earth as it is heaven, or you are still clinging to the old order, which is destined to perish. The biblical prophets describe God's justice as a mighty stream (Amos 5:24), a force 'charged with the omnipotence of God', in Abraham Heschel's words. This image reminds me of a scene in Tolkien's The Two Towers, in which the Ents, ancient guardians of the forest, unleash a dammed-up river onto the evil wizard Saruman's filthy, polluting war factories:

Similarly when God's justice pours down like a mighty stream, it will make the barren earth fertile again and sweep away all filth, but just for that reason anyone who clings to their filth will be swept away as well. There is no middle ground here, no 'neutral' island to stand on which is 'safe' from God's cleansing justice, which in addition to being a mighty stream is also a 'consuming fire'.

In light of this conception I would suggest that the final judgment is based, not on people receiving 'just deserts' for the actions committed in this life, but on whether people get on board with God's program of restorative justice initiated in Jesus Christ or not. The condemnation of the damned is not that they had done evil things, but that they did not accept God's gracious offer of reconciliation and forgiveness of sins and did not participate in bringing about God's sovereign rule. Miroslav Volf puts it well:

God will judge, not because God gives people what they deserve, but because some people refuse to receive what no one deserves; if evildoers experience God's terror, it will not be because they have done evil, but because they have resisted to the end the powerful lure of the open arms of the crucified Messiah. (Exclusion and Embrace, p.298)
This conception makes the most sense of Jesus' actual pattern of judgment, which branches off from John the Baptist's original proclamation. John preached that God was coming to winnow the wheat from the chaff, but the basis for escaping the winnowing (or rather to counted with the wheat instead of the chaff) was for his hearers to produce the 'fruits of repentance'. (Luke 3:8, 17) Notice that he makes no mention of retribution here. The fruits of repentance are fruits of repentance; they signify the hearer's acknowledgement of his or her culpability in tolerating or spreading injustice and his or her commitment to work to seek the kingdom of God, but they are not the kind of good works which could enable a person to deserve salvation.

Similarly, Jesus preached that "The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the gospel!" (Mark 1:14) One's eternal destiny is determined, not by one's balance of good to bad works, but by one's response to the gospel of the imminence of God's kingdom. Though he certainly meant to turn sinners away from their evil ways, he never approached sinners with a message of condemnation. Who did he actually condemn? Not those who merely did evil things (which is everyone), but those who refused to admit their culpability and insisted that they were blameless, and therefore did not feel that they needed God's forgiveness and mercy (one thinks here of the parable of the unforgiving servant, whose condemnation was not based on the debt he owed to his master, but on his refusal to extend the forgiveness he encountered to a fellow servant). John says that the condemnation is that light has come into the world, but men loved darkness rather than light, they clung to darkness because they loved their evil deeds (John 3:19).

This also makes sense of Jesus' pronouncements that certain towns which rejected his message would have a harder time at the judgment than even Sodom and Gomorrah! The basis of the greater condemnation was not that the inhabitants of one town had sinned more than the other, but that one town had been confronted with the gospel and had rejected it, whereas the other had not heard the gospel. There is greater accountability for those who hear the gospel and reject it, but one's final destiny is determined ultimately by one's response to the gospel.

In this scenario, there is no basis for anyone to protest the injustice of being condemned for not believing, while having done good deeds in this life, because the final judgment is not about just deserts! In fact, even some of those who have done great works in Christ's name will be excluded, not on the basis of those works (how could anyone be condemned for doing good works?) but because they thought those works would enable them to stand on their own before God, precisely in fact because they presumed that salvation was contingent on good works! To make such a presumption shows that one has not understood and accepted the gospel, but in fact has arrogantly rejected it because I can do just fine on my own, thank you very much. The gratuitousness of grace is meant precisely to preclude such an option. Because God knew that applying a system of strict retributive justice to fallen human beings would ensure the condemnation of each and every one of us (e.g. Psalm 130:3), he purposefully introduced a righteousness 'apart from the law', so that one could be saved simply by accepting a free gift, not because of works we would have to perform.

But what of Paul's reference to God punishing those who do not know and obey the Gospel with eternal destruction (2 Thessalonians 1:6-9)? But notice here again the basis of the condemnation: it is not simply that these people have done evil things, but that they reacted to the gospel with arrogance and hostility instead of with humility and repentance. As such they are putting themselves in opposition to God's program of restorative justice, and so will be swept away and destroyed in its wake.

The only eschatological scenario consistent with retributive justice would be one with an infinitely fine gradation of eternal destinies, pleasant and unpleasant in accordance with the balance of good and evil in a person's life. But this would imply that God's eschatological kingdom would feature varying degrees of evil and suffering which would persist in accordance with a person's deeds, which makes a mockery of God's promise that nothing would hurt or destroy in all His holy mountain, and that the new heavens and the new earth would be one without pain, suffering and death. Conversely, having just two ultimate destinies would make a mockery of retributive justice because it is impossible to imagine a person being meaningfully compensated for good deeds in the context of eternal punishment and separation from God. Thus, I suggest that the final judgment is based not on one's balance of good and evil deeds, but on the basis of one's response to God's final justice-making initiative, which is entirely either-or, no room for compromise.

I can't seem to get readers to keep coming back to my new site. the Religious A prori. I don't understand why they wont keep coming like the do with Doxa. it's a good sight, it has a lot of new material. It's not a replacement for Doxa it's just augmentation. I leans more heavily to arguments about the existence of God, but no 42 argument list.

In hopes of working up interest in the stie, here is the argument the site is named after:


(1) Scineitifc reductionism loses phenomena by re-defining the nature of sense data and quailia.

(2)There are other ways of Knowing than scinetific induction

(3) Religious truth is apprehended phenomenoloigcally, thus religion is not a scientific issue and cannot be subjected to a materialist critque

(4) Religion is not derived from other disciplines or endeavors but is a approch to understanding in its own right

Therefore, religious belief is justified on its own terms and not according to the dictates or other disciplines

In my dealings with atheist in debate and dialogue I find that they are often very committed to an empiricist view point. Over and over again I hear the refrain "you can't show one single unequivocal demonstration of scientific data that proves a God exists." This is not a criticism. It's perfectly understandable; science has become the umpire of reality. It is to scientific demonstration that we appear for a large swath of questions concerning the nature of reality. The problem is that the reliance upon empiricism has led to forgetfulness about the basis of other types of questions. We have forgotten that essentially science is metaphysics, as such it is just one of many approach that can be derived from analytical reasoning, empiricism, rationalism, phenomonology and other approaches.

Problem with Empiricism

Is empirical evidence the best or only true form of knowledge? This is an apologetics question because it bears upon the arguments for the existence of God.

Is lack of empirical evidence, if there is a lack, a draw back for God arguments?
I deny that there is a lack, but it has to be put in the proper context. That will come in future threads, for this one I will bracket that answer and just assume there no really good empirical evidence (even though I think there is).

I will ague that empiricism is not true source of knowledge by itself and logic is more important.

True empirical evidence in a philosophical sense means exact first hand observation. In science it doesn't really mean that, it implies a more truncated process. Consider this, we drop two balls of different size from a tower. Do they fall the same rate or the bigger one falls faster? They are supposed to fall at the same rate, right? To say we have empirical proof, in the litteral sense of the term we would have to observe every single time two balls are dropped for asl ong as the tower exists. We would have to sit for thousnds of years and observe millions of drops and then we couldn't say it was truely empirical because we might have missed one.

That's impractical for science so we cheat with inductive reasoning. We make assumptions of probability. We say we observed this 40,000 times, that's a tight correlation, so we will assume there is a regularity in the universe that causes it to work this way every time. We make a statistical correlation. Like the surgeon general saying that smoking causes cancer. The tobacco companies were really right, they read their Hume, there was no observation fo cause and effect, because we never observe cause and effect. But the correlation was so tight we assume cause and effect.

The ultimate example is Hume's billiard balls. Hume says we do not see the cause of the ball being made to move, we only really see one ball stop and the other start. But this happens every time we watch, so we assume that the tight corrolation gives us causality.

The naturalistic metaphysician assumes that all of nature works this way. A tight correlation is as good as a cause. So when we observe only naturalistic causes we can assume there is nothing beyond naturalism. The problem is many phenomena can fall between the cracks. One might go one's whole life never seeing a miraculous event, but that doesn't mean someone else doesn't observe such things. All the atheist can say is "I have never seen this" but I can say "I have." Yet the atheist lives in a construct that is made up of his assumptions about naturslitic c/e and excluding anyting that challenges it. That is just like Kuhns paradigm shift. The challenges are absorbed into the paradigm untl there are so many the paradigm has to shit. This may never happen in naturalism.

So this constructed view of the world that is made out of assumption and probabilities misses a lot of experience that people do have that contradicts the paradigm of naturalism. The thing is, to make that construct they must use logic. After all what they are doing in making the correlation is merely inductive reasoning. Inductive reasoning has to play off of deductive reasoning to even make sense.

Ultimately then, "empiricism" as construed by naturalist (inductive probabalistic assumtions building constructs to form a world view) is inadquate because it is merely a contsuct and rules out a prori much that contradicts.

The A priori

God is not given directly in sense data, God transcends the threshold of human understanding, and thus is not given amenable to empirical proof. As I have commented in previous essays (bloodspots) religion is not a scientific question. There are other methodologies that must be used to understand religion, since the topic is essentially inter-subjective (and science thrives upon objective data). We can study religious behavior through empirical means and we can compare all sorts of statistical realizations through comparisons of differing religious experiences, behaviors, and options. But we cannot produce a trace of God in the universe through "objective" scientific means. Here I use the term "trace" in the Derision sense, the "track," "footprint" the thing to follow to put us on the scent. As I have stated in previous essays, what we must do is find the "co-detemrinate," the thing that is left by God like footprints in the snow. The trace of God can be found in God's affects upon the human heart, and that shows up objectively, or inter-subjectvely in changed behavior, changed attitudes, life transformations. This is the basis of the mystical argument that I use, and in a sense it also have a bearing upon my religious instruct argument. But here I wish to present anther view of the trace of God. This could be seen as a co-detmiernate perhaps, more importantly, it frees religion from the structures of having to measure up to a scientific standard of proof: the religious a prori.

Definition of the a priori.

"This notion [Religious a priori] is used by philosophers of religion to express the view that the sense of the Divine is due to a special form of awareness which exists along side the cognitive, moral, and aesthetic forms of awareness and is not explicable by reference to them. The concept of religion as concerned with the awareness of and response to the divine is accordingly a simple notion which cannot be defined by reference other than itself." --David Pailin "Religious a pariori" Westminster Dictionary of Chrisian Theology (498)

The religious a priroi deals with the speicial nature of religion as non-derivative of any other discipline, and especially it's speicial reiigious faculty of understanding which transcends ordinary means of understanding. Since the enlightenment atheist have sought to explain away religion by placing it in relative and discardable terms. The major tactic for accomplishing this strategy was use of the sociological theory of structural functionalism. By this assumption religion was chalked up to some relative and passing social function, such as promoting loyalty to the tribe, or teaching morality for the sake of social cohesion. This way religion was explained naturalistically and it was also set in relative terms because these functions in society, while still viable (since religion is still around) could always pass away. But this viewpoint assumes that religion is derivative of some other discipline; it's primitive failed science, concocted to explain what thunder is for example. Religion is an emotional solace to get people through hard times and make sense of death and destruction (it's a ll sin, fallen world et). But the a priori does away with all that. The a priori says religion is its own thing, it is not failed primitive sincere, nor is it merely a crutch for surviving or making sense of the world (although it can be that) it is also its own discipline; the major impetus for religion is the sense of the numinous, not the need for explanations of the natural world. Anthropologists are coming more and more to discord that nineteenth century approach anyway.

Thomas A Indianopolus
prof of Religion at of Miami U. of Ohio

Cross currents

"It is the experience of the transcendent, including the human response to that experience, that creates faith, or more precisely the life of faith. [Huston] Smith seems to regard human beings as having a propensity for faith, so that one speaks of their faith as "innate." In his analysis, faith and transcendence are more accurate descriptions of the lives of religious human beings than conventional uses of the word, religion. The reason for this has to do with the distinction between participant and observer. This is a fundamental distinction for Smith, separating religious people (the participants) from the detached, so-called objective students of religious people (the observers). Smith's argument is that religious persons do not ordinarily have "a religion." The word, religion, comes into usage not as the participant's word but as the observer's word, one that focuses on observable doctrines, institutions, ceremonies, and other practices. By contrast, faith is about the nonobservable, life-shaping vision of transcendence held by a participant..."

The Skeptic might argue "if religion as this unique form of consciousness that sets it apart form other forms of understanding, why does it have to be taught?" Obviously religious belief is taught through culture, and there is a good reason for that, because religion is a cultural construct. But that does not diminish the reality of God. Culture teaches religion but God is known to people in the heart. This comes through a variety of ways; through direct experience, through miraculous signs, through intuitive sense, or through a sense of the numinous. The Westminster's Dictionary of Christian Theology ..defines Numinous as "the sense of awe in attracting and repelling people to the Holy." Of course the background assumption I make is, as I have said many times, that God is apprehended by us mystically--beyond word, thought, or image--we must encode that understanding by filtering it through our cultural constrcts, which creates religious differences, and religious problems.

The Culturally constructed nature of religion does not negate the a priori. "Even though the forms by Which religion is expressed are culturally conditioned, religion itself is sui generis .. essentially irreducible to and undeceivable from the non-religious." (Paladin). Nor can the a priori be reduced to some other form of endeavor. It cannot be summed up by the use of ethics or any other field, it cannot be reduced to explanation of the world or to other fields, or physiological counter causality. To propose such scientific analysis, except in terms of measuring or documenting effects upon behavior, would yield fruitless results. Such results might be taken as proof of no validity, but this would be a mistake. No scientific control can ever be established, because any study would only be studying the culturally constructed bits (by definition since language and social sciences are cultural constructs as well) so all the social sciences will wind up doing is merely reifying the phenomena and reducing the experience. In other words, This idea can never be studied in a social sciences sense, all that the social sciences can do is redefine the phenomena until they are no longer discussing the actual experiences of the religious believer, but merely the ideology of the social scientist (see my essay on Thomas S. Kuhn.

The attempt of skeptics to apply counter causality, that is, to show that the a priori phenomena is the result of naturalistic forces and not miraculous or divine, not only misses the boat in its assumptions about the nature of the argument, but it also loses the phenomena by reduction to some other phenomena. It misses the boat because it assumes that the reason for the phenomena is the claim of miraculous origin, “I feel the presence of God because God is miraculously giving me this sense of his presence.” While some may say that, it need not be the believers argument. The real argument is simply that the co-determinates are signs of the trace of God in the universe, not because we cant understand them being produced naturalistically, but because they evoke the sense of numinous and draw us to God. The numinous implies something beyond the natural, but it need not be “a miracle.” The sense of the numinous is actually a natural thing, it is part of our apprehension of the world, but it points to the sublime, which in turn points to transcendence. In other words, the attribution of counter causality does not, in and of itself, destroy the argument, while it is the life transformation through the experience that is truly the argument, not the phenomena itself. Its the affects upon the believer of the sense of Gods presence and not the sense of Gods presence that truly indicates the trance of God.

Moreover, the attempts to reduce the causality to something less than the miraculous also lose the phenomena in reification.William James, The Verieties of Religious Experience (The Gilford Lectures):

"Medical materialism seems indeed a good appellation for the too simple-minded system of thought which we are considering. Medical materialism finishes up Saint Paul by calling his vision on the road to Damascus a discharging lesion of the occipital cortex, he being an epileptic. It snuffs out Saint Teresa as an hysteric, Saint Francis of Assisi as an hereditary degenerate. George Fox's discontent with the shams of his age, and his pining for spiritual veracity, it treats as a symptom of a disordered colon. Carlyle's organ-tones of misery it accounts for by a gastro-duodenal catarrh. All such mental over-tensions, it says, are, when you come to the bottom of the matter, mere affairs of diathesis (auto-intoxications most probably), due to the perverted action of various glands which physiology will yet discover. And medical materialism then thinks that the spiritual authority of all such personages is successfully undermined."

This does not mean that the mere claim of religious experience of God consciousness is proof in and of itself, but it means that it must be taken on its own terms. It clearly answers the question about why God doesn't reveal himself to everyone; He has, or rather, He has made it clear to everyone that he exists, and He has provided everyone with a means of knowing Him. He doesn't get any more explicit because faith is a major requirement for belief. Faith is not an arbitrary requirement, but the rational and logical result of a world made up of moral choices. God reveals himself, but on his own terms. We must seek God on those terms, in the human heart and the basic sense of the numinous and in the nature of religious encounter. There are many aspects and versions of this sense, it is not standardized and can be describes in many ways:

Forms of the A priori.

Schleiermacher's "Feeling of Utter Dependence.

Frederick Schleiermacher, (1768-1834) in On Religion: Speeches to it's Cultured Disposers, and The Christian Faith, sets forth the view that religion is not reducible to knowledge or ethical systems. It is primarily a phenomenological apprehension of God consciousness through means of religious affections. Affections is a term not used much anymore, and it is easily confused with mere emotion. Sometimes Schleiermacher is understood as saying that "I become emotional when I pay and thus there must be an object of my emotional feelings." Though he does vintner close to this position in one form of the argument, this is not exactly what he's saying.

Schleiermacher is saying that there is a special intuitive sense that everyone can grasp of this whole, this unity, being bound up with a higher reality, being dependent upon a higher unity. In other words, the "feeling" can be understood as an intuitive sense of "radical contingency" (int he sense of the above ontological arugments).He goes on to say that the feeling is based upon the ontological principle as its theoretical background, but doesn't' depend on the argument because it proceeds the argument as the pre-given pre-theorectical pre-cognative realization of what Anslem sat down and thought about and turned into a rational argument: why has the fools said in his heart 'there is no God?' Why a fool? Because in the heart we know God. To deny this is to deny the most basic realization about reality.

Rudolph Otto's Sense of the Holy (1868-1937)

The sense of power in the numinous which people find when confronted by the sacred. The special sense of presence or of Holiness which is intuitive and observed in all religious experience around the world.

Paul Tillich's Object of Ultimate Concern.

We are going to die. We cannot avoid this. This is our ultimate concern and sooner or latter we have to confront it. When we do we realize a sense of transformation that gives us a special realization existentially that life is more than material.

see also My article on Toilet's notion of God as the Ground of Being.

Tillich's concept made into God argument.

As Robert R. Williams puts it:

There is a "co-determinate to the Feeling of Utter dependence.

"It is the original pre-theoretical consciousness...Schleiermacher believes that theoretical cognition is founded upon pre-theoretical intersubjective cognition and its life world. The latter cannot be dismissed as non-cognative for if the life world praxis is non-cognative and invalid so is theoretical cognition..S...contends that belief in God is pre-theoretical, it is not the result of proofs and demonstration, but is conditioned soley by the modification of feeling of utter dependence. Belief in God is not acquired through intellectual acts of which the traditional proofs are examples, but rather from the thing itself, the object of religious experience..If as S...says God is given to feeling in an original way this means that the feeling of utter dependence is in some sense an apparition of divine being and reality. This is not meant as an appeal to revelation but rather as a naturalistic eidetic"] or a priori. The feeling of utter dependence is structured by a corrolation with its whence." , Schleiermacher the Theologian, p 4.

The believer is justified in assuming that his/her experinces are experiences of a reality, that is to say, that God is real.

Freedom from the Need to prove.

Schleiermacher came up with his notion of the feeling when wrestling with Kantian Dualism. Kant had said that the world is divided into two aspects of relaity the numenous and the pheneomenal. The numenous is not experienced through sense data, and sense God is not experineced through sense data, God belongs only to the numenous. The problem is that this robbs us of an object of theological discourse. We can't talk about God because we can't experience God in sense data. Schleiermacher found a way to run an 'end round' and get around the sense data. Experience of God is given directly in the "feeling" apart form sense data.

This frees us form the need to prove the existence of God to others, because we know that God exists in a deep way that cannot be estreated by mere cultural constructs or reductionist data or deified phenomena. This restores the object of theological discourse. Once having regained its object, theological discourse can proceed to make the logical deduction that there must be a CO-determinate to the feeling, and that CO-determinate is God. In that sense Schleiermacher is saying "if I have affections about God must exist as an object of my affections"--not merely because anything there must be an object of all affections, but because of the logic of the co-determinate--there is a sense of radical contengency, there must be an object upon which we are radically contingent.

Jason dealt with Richard Pervo’s argument that Acts’ reference to Theudas in Gamaliel’s speech is evidence of dependence on Josephus. Because I think Pervo has been refuted on that point, I wanted to address another, related comment that he makes expressing skepticism at the possibility that Luke could have known about Gamaliel’s speech even if it had been given. Pervo raises two challenges to the authenticity of Gamaliel’s address in Acts: that it is to short to be authentic and that there was no possible source for Luke to draw on.

Those who maintain that Luke here reproduces an actual speech have taken on a formidable challenge, not only because of its extreme brevity, but also because Acts represents the action as taking place behind close doors.

Pervo, Dating Acts, page 152. In a footnote, Pervo claim that conservative scholar Ben Witherington “concedes that Luke may have concocted the speech, but allows for the possibility that Paul is the source.” That is quite a claim and, as I found out after checking Witheringotn, overstated. What Witherington actually says is rather different; "This may be one of those occasions when Luke has composed a speech on the basis of what one could conjecture the speaker likely did say, but on the other hand it is possible that Gamaliel’s pupil Saul was either present on this occasion or heard a detailed report from Gamaliel about it later. Luke, then, could have gotten the information from Paul.” Witherington, Acts, page 234.

In any event, this post will examine the theory that Luke-Acts simply "concocted" the speech, based on Pervo's two challenges -- setting aside for the moment the already addressed notion that Luke-Acts used Josephus as source material.

Gamaliel’s Speech

Acts 5:33-40:

When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death. But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. Then he addressed them: "Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God." His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.
Is Brevity Evidence of Fabrication?

Pervo does not explain how he determined that the length of Gamaliel’s speech was too short. How long must it be before one can entertain the possibility that it is authentic rather than concocted? How does Pervo rule out the possibility that Gamaliel was simply a to-the-point public speaker? This is a question of methodology, for if Pervo is going to claim speeches are concocted based on their length, he must have some ideal length in mind. He does not tell us what that might be or how it might be established.

Further, I would be surprised if Pervo did not know that brief speeches are “in almost all ancient historical accounts." Marion L. Soards, The Speeches in Acts, page 141 (Soards notes that Acts contains more brief speeches than most other ancient histories, but that is no reason to suppose fabrication). One cannot accuse Acts of fabricating speeches based on brevity unless one is willing to make the same charge against almost all ancient historiography from the Greco-Roman world. In such case, Pervo has failed to distinguish Acts from even top-tier ancient historians who are otherwise considered useful historical sources. I suppose Pervo could make the charge that all ancient historians did concoct their speeches (or at least their shorter ones), but he does not do so in his discussion of Gamaliel's speech and would face an even steeper methodological challenge had he done so.

In a footnote, Pervo notes that scholars have suggested that the Gamaliel speech is a summary rather than a verbatim transcript. He appears to reject this possibility out of hand as “methodologically questionable, for the narrator does not say ‘in words to this effect’ or the like. If Luke is permitted to summarize without saying so, permission to invent is also possible.” Pervo, Dating Acts, page 411, n. 27. I am not certain what Pervo means by “permitted,” but the last sentence appears to be a non-sequitur. An author who feels free to summarize will not necessarily feel free to invent. Nor if historians conclude that some authors summarized the speeches in their writings must they then conclude that those speeches are fabrications. In fact, for what should be obvious reasons, summarizing or paraphrasing were common among ancient historians; so common that there was no need to signal the fact that such was the practice.

The "father of history," at least Greco-Roman history, Thucydides commented on his practice of reporting speeches.

As for the speeches each side made either in preparing to go to war or during it, it has been difficult for me to remember accurately what was said in regard to those I heard myself and those reported to me from other sources. I have given the speeches as I thought each person or group said what was required on different occasions, keeping as close as possible to the overall sense of what was actually said.

Thucydides 1.22 (As translated by T.J. Luce, The Greek Historians, page 71). Thucydides notes the difficulty in recalling exactly what was said in a particular speech. Instead, he shoots for the “overall sense” of what was really said. I agree with Luce that Thucydides does not mean to suggest that he wrote speeches “as he thought would have best suited the speakers and occasions.” Id. If that was his meaning, why clarify that he was keeping close to what was actually said. “So the speeches are to a degree objective.” Id. The use of the term “overall” strongly suggests “something brief,” that focuses on what the recounter considered most important. This, and the “great stumbling block” of memory, explains why ancient historians tended to record speeches that included their own style and vocabulary. Id. at 71-72.

Thucydides was not atypical. Polybius -- writing centuries later -- is critical of another historian's free invention of speeches, noting that “he has not set down the words spoken nor the sense of what was really said....” Polybius, 12.25a. This shows us that some ancient historians did fabricate -- as have some later historians -- but that the expectation is that speeches should be accurate, which would include providing the "sense of what was really said.” Charles William Fornara concludes that “the principle was established that speeches were to be recorded accurately, though in the words of the historian, and always with the reservation that the historian could ‘clarify’ -- provide arguments expressing what the circumstances required of the speaker when the latter presented his case imperfectly.... In theory at least, Thucydides set down a positive methodological rule: speeches were deeds or actions requiring accurate reproduction in substance, always with the possibility, when necessary, of expansion, truncation, or reduction.” The Nature of History in Ancient Greece and Rome, page 145. Fornara concludes that “Thucydides’ methodological rule proved authoritative.... the public proceeded on the expectation that the speeches they would read represented the tenor of what had actually been said.” Id.

Accordingly, the expectation was that historians of the time should report what was actually said at speeches. This did not mean that the historian would reproduce a verbatim transcript, but should at least provide an “overall sense” of what was actually said. The speech was typically recast in the historians style and subject to “truncation or reduction.” Fornara, op. cit., page 145. Given this practice, the speech of Gamaliel is not unusually brief nor, if summarized, must we conclude that the author believed he had a license to invent.

Is There A Plausible Source?

The other challenge Pervo raises is the question of how the author of Luke-Acts would have access to the “closed-door” meeting in which the speech occurred. Considerations of a possible source for how the author of Luke-Acts could have learned of the contents of Gamaliel's speech is an interesting question. But it should not begin by using misleading characterizations. Acts does not state that the speech was given behind “closed doors.” Rather, it states that the accused apostles (perhaps only Peter and John) were removed from the Sanhedrin during the deliberations. This does not mean that the room was cleared of everyone but a select few, the cone of silence descended, and no one else ever had any idea what was said. At most, it means that the accused apostles were not present to hear the speech themselves.

Does this mean that there was no possible source from which Luke-Acts could have obtained a report of the speech? Not at all. Pervo himself acknowledges Colin Hemer’s suggestion that Paul learned of the speech from Gamaliel, but appears skeptical that Paul was Gamaliel’s student given their different in approaches to the “Christian problem.” By this I suppose that Pervo means that Paul was an enthusiastic persecutor of Christians whereas Gamaliel is more passive. This objection is unpersuasive. Pervo produces no evidence that the relationship between teacher and student at the time required complete harmony of perspectives. In fact, Rabbinical writings recount disagreements between teachers and students, including having a student “scoff” at his teacher and vocally disagreeing with him. More to the point, Acts 22:3 states that Paul had been a student of Gamaliel during his upbringing, not that he continued to be his disciple or student through the time of his conversion. So it is no objection to the possibility that Gamaliel himself is the source, through Paul, that they may have disagreed with how to address the Christian issue at the time.

However, I think Hemer was merely making a point by noting that Paul -- by his own account -- was a Jewish leader committed to opposing the early Christian movement. There is no need to suppose that Paul learned of the speech directly from Gamaliel to establish plausibility. For example, Pervo notes the possibility that Paul was present at the trial himself, but fails to explain why he dismisses the notion. Whether personally present, no doubt Paul would have been interested in the deliberations that resulted in the release of the apostles and likely had access to persons who were present, if he was not there himself. So even if not present at the deliberations -- and I suspect Acts would have mentioned if he was -- Paul may still have been a source for the speech, though he himself learned of it not from Gamaliel but from other participants in the deliberations; perhaps those who -- like Paul -- favored more dramatic measures against the Christians. Indeed, it is hard to believe that Paul would not have been interested in why the Christian apostles were treated in what to him would have been a lenient manner. So Paul as a source is perfectly plausible and that plausibility reduces the force of any claim that Acts could not have had access to a report about Gamaliel’s speech.

Even if we take Paul out of the picture, however, it is unlikely that everyone present at the speech -- members of the Sanhedrin, lesser officials, servants -- failed to describe the speech to a broader audience. The Gospels and Acts agree that there were Jesus sympathizers among the Jerusalem leadership. These are also plausible sources. Moreover, Acts suggests that the trial was a notable event. The statement that the apostles were placed in “public jail” means that the arrest “is designed to make a visible public point. People are to know that the apostles have been arrested.” Darrell Bock, Acts, BECNT, page 238. Given the public ruckus the Christians had been making, a publicly promoted arrest and imprisonment, followed by a a quick release, there must have been significant interest in the rationale for the release. So even if Paul himself made no inquiry -- which seems less likely than its alternative -- it is plausible that others participants reported what they had heard to Christians or people who reported it to Christians. Obviously, the further removed the source is from the speech itself, the greater the possibility that the recollection decreased in accuracy. But as we have already noted, it was acceptable to provide an “overall sense” of what was said. Accordingly, Pervo’s contention that Luke “concocted” the speech because -- at least in part -- the meeting was supposedly “behind closed doors” fails to persuade.

All human beings, deep down, have a thirst for justice, and this manifests itself in a desire to see evildoers punished. We are properly outraged at heinous crimes like rape, murder and genocide and want to see the perpetrators pay. We enjoy movies in which the 'bad guys' get their comeuppance (I remember literally jumping out of my seat with clenched fist with a loud cry of 'Yes!' when Lancelot hacked Prince Malagant to death in First Knight, to name one of many examples). 'Eye for an eye' and 'tooth for a tooth' just seems right. The moral law must be upheld, and punishments meted out consistently and without exception. Anything less would seem to underestimate the gravity of wrongdoing and let people 'off the hook' who shouldn't be let off.

Retributive justice is very intuitively appealing. It just seems obvious that punishment must be meted out for wrongdoing. We see it as entirely just and proper for a murderer to be sentenced to life imprisonment or even execution. We gain a certain satisfaction from imagining the cruel treatment that a rapist might suffer in prison. And we think no punishment is harsh enough for a perpetrator of genocide like Hitler or Pol Pot.

But when we really think about it, although we feel that punishment should be meted out for wrongdoing, is it true that justice has actually been done? So the Nazi officers who were tried and sentenced to death at Nuremberg got what they deserved...but their victims are still dead, and the survivors traumatized. The husband of a murdered wife may feel a sense of satisfaction watching the murderer go to the electric chair, but the wife is still gone, and nothing, not even the satisfaction of seeing punishment meted out can fully compensate for that loss.

I suggest that what really lies behind our desire for justice is not for punishment to be meted out, but things to be made right.

Let me illustrate with a less dramatic example. Suppose a thief breaks into my house and steals a priceless heirloom. The thief is caught without the heirloom ever being found, and is sentenced to pay a fine or goes to jail. Yes, that may be appropriate, but what I really want is my heirloom back. The punishment of the thief does not compensate for the loss of the heirloom.

Now imagine that a thief steals the heirloom, but feels guilty about it (and really guilty, not just worried that he might be caught, but guilty because he realizes he's done me wrong) and returns it to me with sincere apologies. Is there any need for me to report the incident to the police? If I am impressed with his remorse and have recovered the heirloom, why should any further punishment be necessary? And even if I don't recover the heirloom, but the thief comes to me in remorse and promises to do whatever is in his power to make it up to me, why should I not forgive him? The thief's remorse might even be the opportunity for us to become friends, to be reconciled and no longer at cross purposes.

Now it seems obvious to us that even if that kind of response might be appropriate in such situations, it would obviously be perverse when dealing with the perpetrator of genocide, for example. But why is that exactly?

For one thing, the perpetrators of genocide and other heinous crimes are notorious for rationalizing their behavior so that they find it impossible to see that they have done anything wrong. Even when confronted with overwhelming evidence of their culpability, they will flatly deny it and not shed so much as a tear for their victims.

Second, the suffering, pain and anguish they cause to their victims seems overwhelming and irreversible. The harassment, the torture and the death cannot be undone. Justice cries out for compensation.

Third, to be lenient to such criminals would seem to threaten the social order by trivializing wrongdoing, whereas a proper sense of the severity of wrongdoing is essential for social cohesion. If would-be murderers, rapists, abusers, etc. knew that they would probably be let off the hook, they would run wild. Society would break down.

But what if the following conditions held: suppose the perpetrators of genocide were to become fully aware of the enormity of their crimes and were overwhelmed with remorse (again not just because they were caught but because they realized how deeply they wronged and violated their victims), all the hurt and suffering of the victims were completely erased so that the dead came back to life and wounds healed, including their memories so that they did not even remember the pain and anguish of their persecution, and a new society appeared in which it would be impossible for any further abuses to take place? Would we still demand that the perpetrators suffer?

It seems to me that retributive justice is an accommodation to our fallen condition. Jesus said that it was because of the hardness of the Israelites' hearts that Moses allowed people to divorce (Matthew 19:8), and it seems that the same is true for the whole scheme of retribution. In this fallen world we are often confronted with wrongdoers we don't know are truly repentant (or that we do know actually aren't), the majority of crimes cause harm which cannot be taken back, undone or made up for, and in the face of the blackness of the human heart the state must consistently enforce the law to maintain social cohesion. Even in the face of sincere repentance and a desire on the part of those wronged to forgive, the state must enforce punishments so as to not give the impression that people can commit crime with impunity.

In such a condition, the only compensation that those who lose a loved one to murder can get is the satisfaction of knowing that the murderer is being punished. And in order to maintain its authority, the state has no choice but to uphold the law and mete out punishment. Note however that this is only partial compensation: it is not justice, because the loved one is still dead, and the murderer may still be unrepentant. True justice would be for things to be made right: the dead loved one restored to life, and the murderer repentant.

And in fact, due to our sinful condition, retribution itself can become an injustice, when the desire for revenge demands punishment out of all proportion with the crime. We see this in the very beginning, when Lamech boasts to his wives that "I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for hurting me. If Cain is to be avenged seven times as much, then Lamech seventy-seven times!" (Genesis 4:23-24) In light of this fact, we can actually read the Mosaic injunction, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth," not as endorsing retribution, but limiting it within strict boundaries. Given that human beings desire revenge for wrongs which cannot be undone and will seek it out anyway, the law simply makes sure that it won't get out of hand.

Proponents of restorative justice are often ridiculed for being too sentimentalist and unrealistic. The suggestion is made that those who advocate for it have not experienced human evil in all its ugliness, and have a 'bleeding heart' for those who do not really deserve it.

What is surprising then is that throughout history the chief proponents of restorative justice have also been the ones that experienced the most horrific injustices. Take just one well-known example: Martin Luther King. King grew up experiencing the awful injustice of discrimination. He endured the humiliation of knowing that those around him thought of him as a second-class citizen. He was doubtless aware of the history of slavery and the horrors it contained: slave-masters raping their servant girls, ripping apart families, beating and starving their slaves, not allowing them to become educated, etc. And he certainly knew about the lynch mobs that continued to take place up to his own time, and experienced the brutality of police tactics to put down demonstrations. In this context, how could anyone not wish that the oppressors would suffer, and suffer greatly?

But King constantly affirmed that his nonviolent resistance tactics had as their aim, not only to secure the right treatment of blacks, but to be reconciled to his white brothers and sisters. The aim of non-violent resistance, he said, was never to shame or to hurt the oppressors, but to make them see the truth of the injustice they were perpetrating, and bring them back into the circle of community. These convictions did not result from King's awareness that the whites were a powerful majority, or that it would be too hard to track down each and every perpetrator of injustice, but from his understanding that the oppressors too often were blind to what they were doing but remained fellow human beings, and from his firm faith that in the struggle for justice, humanity has 'cosmic companionship'. Because he was convinced that God was a God of justice and love, he had the courage to bear injustice without striking back, just as Jesus did as he was going to his death. He was convinced that ultimately love and reconciliation would prevail.

These are just a few tentative thoughts and I still have a lot of reading and studying to do before I come to a better understanding of the spirit of biblical justice. But at this point it seems plausible to understand retribution in the Bible primarily as damage control, until God could effect a complete and perfect reconciliation in Christ.


This was posted on Atheistwach in Feb 09.The website is substantially different now then it was at that time. Several of the sections I talk about below are not there now. I admit that it may jump the gun in certain ways. I think nevertheless I do have a point here about the deceptive nature of Jesus myth "scholarship." I'm not saying it's a "conspiracy" on the order of Thrush or the JFK assassination, but it does look like a put up job in certain ways. I think we are vastly underestimating the extent of organization and power grab tactics being used by an organized atheist movement.

Richard Carrier has a couple of articles on his blog about a big conference for the Jesus Project
held at Amherst last December. It sounds very scholarly. It presents the image of a group of major scholars meeting to mull over the latest scientific findings that prove Jesus never existed. This creates the idea that there is a climate of opinion in the academic world to expose the lies about Jesus and show that he never existed.

But if you follow the trail to see where this lie originated, and the trail is clearly marked, one can see clearly that there's nothing scholarly about it. It's nothing more than a put up job, but it's no accident that the Jesus Myth stupidity though exposed time after time as bankrupt lives on and continues to draw in a group suckers who are hood winked into believing that they are on the cutting edge of scientific search for truth.

The tail begins with the first major clue, the website of an organization called "The Jesus Project." Carrier links to this site on his blog, The site purports to be a focal point for cutting edge academic research which supposedly takes up where the Jesus Seminar left off:

The Jesus Seminar, founded in 1985 by the late Robert Funk of the University of Montana, was famous for all the wrong reasons—its voting  method(marbles), the grandstanding of some of its members, the public style of its meetings, even its openly defiant stance against the claims of miracles in the Gospels—including the of Jesus. Except for the marbles, none of this was new. The use of additional sources, such as Gnostic and apocryphal gospels, to create a fuller picture of the Jesus-tradition and the focus on context as though it provided content were at least innovative. But the Jesus who emerged from these scholarly travails was so diminished that—as I wrote in a FREE INQUIRY article in 1993—he could not exist apart from his makers: “The Jesus of the [Jesus Seminar] is a talking doll with a questionable repertoire of thirty-one sayings. Pull a string and he blesses the poor.”

What the Seminar had tacitly acknowledged without acknowledging the corollary is that over 80 percent of “Jesus” had been fictionalized by the Gospel writers. That is to say that, if we are to judge a man’s life by his sayings, the greater portion of the literary artifacts known as the Gospels is fictional. If we are to judge by actions, then what actions survived historical criticism? Not the virgin birth, or the Transfiguration, or the healing of the sick, or the purely magical feats such as Cana, or the multiplication of loaves and fishes. The Resurrection had quietly been sent to the attic by theologians in the nineteenth century. The deeds—except, perhaps, the attack on the Temple (Mark 11:15–19)—had preceded the words to the dustbin years before, yet scholars insisted the historical figure was untouched. Only faith could explain this invulnerability to harm....


Of course buying into this assumes that the Jesus seminar did its work well, which almost no scholars outside of the Jesus Seminar agree with. The Jesus Project, of course, aims to do better. They are off to a smashing start with the selection of a highly original name! But I find some telling things in the recounting of their mission:

....On a pleasant day in January 2007, at the University of California, Davis, the Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion (CSER) asked the question that had been looking for a serious answer for over a hundred years: Did Jesus exist? The CSER fellows, invited guests, present and former members of the Jesus Seminar, and a wide variety of interested and engaged attendees applauded roundly after three days of lectures and discussions on the subject—appropriately—“Scripture and Skepticism.” The Jesus Project, as CSER has named the new effort, is the first methodologically agnostic approach to the question of Jesus’ historical existence. But we are not neutral, let alone willfully ambiguous, about the objectives of the project itself. We believe in assessing the quality of the evidence available for looking at this question before seeing what the evidence has to tell us. We do not believe the task is to produce a “plausible” portrait of Jesus prior to considering the motives and goals of the Gospel writers in telling his story. We think the history and culture of the times provide many significant clues about the character of figures similar to Jesus. We believe the mixing of theological motives and historical inquiry is impermissible. We regard previous attempts to rule the question out of court as vestiges of a time when the Church controlled the boundaries of permissible inquiry into its sacred books. More directly, we regard the question of the historical Jesus as a testable hypothesis, and we are committed to no prior conclusions about the outcome of our inquiry. This is a statement of our principles, and we intend to stick to them. __________________

Let's remember that now: it's inexcusable to mix theology with scholarship. We will find that mixing a contempt for religion with scholarship is quite fine.

This sounds like a fair and scholarly statement. But consider the words in blue. What that really says is "we support the Jesus myth theory." Which tells me that, aside from everything coming out of their work, see Carrier's blog linked above), is that they aim not to understand the Gospel writers as though that would be some kind of big error. Secondly, the line about "figures similar to Jesus": in other words, they are going to try to argue that they prove the dying/rising savior God bit. Mixing theology and history is inexcusable, but of course doing history as a cover for destruction of a religious belief they despise is fine and dandy. They are not biased they just have the answers before they ask the questions.

All of this is trivial, I'm getting to the point...

At the end of its lease, the Jesus Project will publish its findings. Those findings will not be construed as sensational or alarming; like all good history, the project is aiming at a probable reconstruction of the events that explain the beginning of Christianity—a man named Jesus from the province of Galilee whose life served as the basis for the beginning of a movement, or a sequence of events that led to the Jesus story being propagated throughout the Mediterranean. We find both conclusions worthy of contemplation, but as we live in the real world—of real causes and outcomes—only one can be true. Our aim, like Pilate’s (John 18:38), is to find the truth.

Who wants to bet his house against my assumption they will find that Jesus didn't exist and that the Bible is totally wrong? Anyone willing to bet his house on that? Of course to be what they call "probable" they would have to conclude that the bible is a lie and Jesus never existed, because they are totally hostile to religion and ideas connected with religion. One hint that this may be the case is who is publishing the results of the seminar:

In general the conference revealed some cutting edge stuff in the works. Later this year or the next, Prometheus Books will publish the conference papers (or rather, improved and lengthened versions of them, e.g. my chapter in that book will be rather different from my actual talk, which was largely off-the-cuff, but most of the content will be the same).

Prometheus books only does atheist books.

But none of this is the point. That just sets up a clear look at their true motives. They are not the least bit interested in scholarship. But what's really interesting is what it says at the top of the page on "introduction":
Jesus Project, "a product of Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion"
So ‘Jesus Project’ is a project of this Committee. Who are these committee people? What is this organization? Trying to answer that question led me to another website:the CSER "Center for Inquiry".

Here's what they say about themselves:

The Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion (CSER) is a research division of the Center for Inquiry. Since its 1983 founding in Washington, DC, the Committee has worked to encourage humanistic, critical and non-parochial approaches to the study of religious traditions and institutions and to develop programs that promote the public understanding of religion in an international context.

CSER is an international research and educational consultation comprised of members (appointed fellows) who are nominated by an executive board. The current chair of CSER is Dr. R. Joseph Hoffmann, who succeeded Dr. Gerald Larue in January 2004.

The Jesus Project is not the world of scholars who organized their project as a group of truth seeking academics doing scholarly research. They were recruited by an organization whose primary purpose and goal is to destroy Christianity. Their statement above says they just want to contribute to understanding of religion. But to understand it in what way? We already see they are not satisfied with the 2000 years of scholarship on Jesus because they consider that dominated by the church. Does that mean their "scholarship" will be free and unencumbered? Yet they were recruited as the special project of this organization, does that seem real open and fair? Let's look further and see who else is involved in this group.

The Headquarters of the group is in Amherst where the conference was held. So the conference is not related to the university, just held in the town. The same town where the organization that sponsors the project is.

P.O. Box 741
Amherst, NY 14226

This is under the tab on the website marked "advocacy." A group that does advocacy is not a scholarly group. They are not interested in truth, they are interested in selling their idea of the way things are, they want to dominate thinking. This is why they put up a big web of deception to create an impression of impartial scholarship and truth seeking when in reality what they have is a put up job the purpose of which is to destroy belief. How do I know this? Because look at the other wings of their organization. First of all this is their mission:

The Office of Public Policy (OPP) works on three levels:
  • At the grassroots level, the OPP works with CFI Centers and Communities on policy within the state and at the state level on federal issues. The OPP trains Friends of the Center to influence state and local level legislation, take part in political campaigns, and run for office.
  • At the federal level, the OPP lobbies the U.S. Congress and the Administration in three areas: science and reason; secularism, and humanist ethics. The OPP also cooperates with powerful coalitions to influence legislators through individual and group communications.
  • At the international level, the OPP supports the work of CFI at the United Nations by lobbying Congress and the State Department on UN-related issues.

They are a lobby group. How many scholars are lobbyists? How scholarly is that?

Fringe science and extraordinary claims

Through its Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI), Skeptical Inquirer magazine, and other initiatives, CFI advocates responsible, evidence-based treatment of extraordinary claims and fringe science, such as psychic phenomena, intelligent design creationism, and conspiracy theories. Council for Media Integrity presses for fair representation of naturalistic outlook in mass media.

In other words they are out to destroy faith and the concept of miracles. That means they are not going to allow scholars in the Jesus Project who have any sort of religious belief. It’s going to be totally doubting, atheistic, unbelieving and out to disprove any notion that gives religion even a slight benefit of the facts. Another wing of their group is dealing mental and medical health. Now does that include findings that religious belief is mental illness?

Medical and mental health

In age of alternative and complimentary medicine and New Age therapies, CFI advocates evidence-based medicine and mental health through its Commission for Scientific Medicine and Mental Health Practice (CSMMH), publisher of the Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine and the Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice, as well as in Skeptical Inquirer and its “Healthy Skeptic” online column.

Religion, ethics and society

CFI is a leader in the struggle for a more rational, secular world. CFI’s Council for Secular Humanism (CSH) and Free Inquiry magazine promotes secular perspectives on contemporary issues; African Americans for Humanism assists humanist groups in America and Africa; the Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion stimulates critical scholarship; and the Institute of the Secularization of Islamic Society stands up for the right to apostacy and blasphemy and the separation of mosque and state.

They are so concerned about the right to blaspheme, do they give a damn about the vast majority of humanity that thinks they are nuts and believes in God? This is just a another look group of tin pot dictators who are convinced they are special and they need to lead the ignorant masses, like Stalin, like Hitler, like Pol Pot. One example of their work is this:

Amicus Brief Submitted in Americans United for Separation of Church and State v. Prison Fellowship Ministries (U. S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit)

Question Presented: Whether a state-funded program that seeks to rehabilitate inmates through religious conversion violates the Establishment Clause and whether the organization that operates the program can be required to return to the state the funds that it has received.

So even though the most remarkable success in American history for prison rehab has been religious conversion (Quaker ran jails of the nineteenth century) they want to disallow it because it's somehow violating them even though they are not in prison and it does not effect them. But they can't stand the idea that others are being saved and led to God. Now would they force a voluntary program to shut? Are people being forced into prison ministry? I don't think so.

Here's their example of safe guarding religious liberty:

Safeguarding Religious Liberty in Charitable Choice and Faith-Based Initiatives

The Obama administration recently announced an expansion of government funding for so-called "faith-based initiatives," in which taxpayer dollars are doled out to sectarian religious organizations for the performance of social service programs. This government funding raises legal and constitutional concerns that the administration has yet to address directly. In February, the Center for Inquiry produced a position paper that called for an end to government funding of faith-based programs. Because government funding is scheduled to continue, the Center for Inquiry further recommended the adoption and vigorous enforcement of specific minimum safeguards to protect church-state separation and religious liberty.

CFI performed a detailed historical study of federal funding for faith-based programs, extending from the rise of "charitable choice" legislation during the Clinton administration through the explosion of taxpayer funding for religious programs under George W. Bush's Faith Based and Community Initiative. The position paper that resulted from this study expresses deep misgivings about government funding of sectarian religious programs. CFI cited concerns that these programs may use taxpayer dollars to support or favor religious activities and beliefs; that government may give preference to particular religious organizations in doling out funds; and that under current standards, recipients of taxpayer funding for faith-based programs are allowed to engage in employment discrimination on the basis of religion.

CFI's position paper recommends that government funding of faith-based programs be eliminated entirely. CFI's paper endorses a limited exception for truly secular social services programs, such as Catholic Charities, that have some affiliation with a religious institution but are provided by independent 501(c)(3) charities. CFI maintains that such charities must conduct social service programs without religious content or materials and without engaging in religious discrimination. (Catholic Charities is a non-profit corporation separate and distinct from the Catholic Church.)

Their example of safeguarding religious liberty is to close it down because it's somehow hurting them that religious groups are allowed to help people.

Oh but let's back up and look at the fringe science bit. The organization that put up the Jesus Project also sponsors Skeptical Inquirer magazine, as their special mission of "advocacy." It's clear what they are advocating is the destruction of Christianity. This means the secular web and all the major force of internet atheists are just their little army of brown shirts running around persecuting Christians.

It’s the crystal night.

I'm sure I'm being alarmist. I'm just building a conspiracy theory out of thin air. Do you really foresee the Jesus project not coming out with findings about Jesus not existing and the Bible being untrue? They will hoodwink people into thinking that this is a scholarly mission and that it's fair and honest scholarship when the results are predetermined because it's professional wrestling. This is the work of real scholarship like Firts Von Erich was really an athlete and not an entertainer.

Look at it honestly, the Jesus Project is sponsored by the same organization that runs the Skeptical Inquirer magazine.

So maybe I'm overdoing it on the aims of those humanist organizations but it's pretty clear they are pushing an agenda other than pure scholarship. They accuse the Church of being a heavy handed setup and power grab so can we imagine they will not use that as a justification for their own power grab?

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