CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

Bill Maher, the irreverant (and increasingly irrelevant) host of some poorly watched show on HBO called "Real Time with Bill Maher", is, according to Sue Naegel of HBO, "a fearless, funny and totally original observer of the modern world." In fact, his show is so interesting that for the latest rating period I could find (October 24, 2011), his show was beaten in the 10:00 pm time slot by such notable television programs as "Sanctuary" on SyFy, "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives" on the Food Channel, and the memorable "Hairy Bikers" on the History Channel. (Actually, it appears that Maher's program was beaten by every cable competitor in the 10:00 pm slot. I guess people just aren't that invested in Mr. Maher's original observations of the modern world.)

Anyway, Mr. Maher is no friend to Christianity. As I noted in a blog entry in 2006 entitled "Dr." Bill Maher's Unenlightened Diagnosis, Maher (in his original way) believes that anyone who believes that religion is true has a "neurological disorder." He has said, ""We are a nation that is unenlightened because of religion. I do believe that. I think that religion stops people from thinking." Mr. Maher also was behind a Religulous, a poorly grossing film ($13 million internationally) that contained some typical Maher quotes such as:

The plain fact is religion must die for mankind to live. The hour is getting very late to be able to indulge in having key decisions made by religious people - by irrationalists - by those who would steer the ship of state, not by a compass, but by the equivalent of reading the entrails of a chicken.

Faith means making a virtue out of not thinking. It's nothing to brag about. And those who preach faith, and enable and elevate it are intellectual slaveholders, keeping mankind in a bondage to fantasy and nonsense that has spawned and justified so much lunacy and destruction. Religion is dangerous because it allows human beings who don't have all the answers to think that they do. Most people would think it's wonderful when someone says, "I'm willing, Lord! I'll do whatever you want me to do!" Except that since there are no gods actually talking to us, that void is filled in by people with their own corruptions and limitations and agendas.

If you belonged to a political party or a social club that was tied to as much bigotry, misogyny, homophobia, violence, and sheer ignorance as religion is, you'd resign in protest. To do otherwise is to be an enabler, a mafia wife, for the true devils of extremism that draw their legitimacy from the billions of their fellow travelers.

You see, what Maher lacks in wit, he makes up in bombast. And since he is pretty darn bombastic, I suggest it tells you about the level of his wit.

But in case that doesn't tell you, consider Maher's recent tweet about Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow. If you are not a follower of American football, Tim Tebow has become the star of the Broncos team by leading them to a series of exciting, come-from-behind victories that has led the team to the cusp of a place in the NFL playoffs. What's important for this blog is that Tebow is an outspoken Christian. In fact, he is so outspoken that even other Christian athletes (like Kurt Warner) have suggested that he tone down the God-talk.

Tebow's Christianity made him a target of the semi-wit of Bill Maher. You see, while the Broncos were on a winning streak (I believe it was 7 wins in a row), Tebow was thanking God. But then the Broncos faced the Buffalo Bills on Christmas Eve, and the Broncos were beaten pretty soundly. Maher, apparently in his role of "original observer of the modern world", had to tweet about the loss. According to the Washington Post in an article entitled Bill Maher and Tim Tebow: Why are so so many offended by the quarterback’s faith? reports that Maher tweeted: , “Wow, Jesus just [expletive] Tim Tebow bad! And on Xmas Eve! Somewhere in hell Satan is Tebowing, saying to Hitler, ‘Hey, Buffalo’s killing them.’” (For those not familiar with the lingo, "Tebowing" is the process of kneeling on the field to give thanks to God that Tim Tebow made temporarily famous in his short stint as quarterback.)

Some people have called for a boycott of HBO in response to the tweet. That's a better idea than boycotting Maher's program. After all, if he lost half his viewers no one would notice anyway. But I'm not blogging to advocate boycotting HBO. At least, Maher didn't say anything in the tweet that was unexpected given his prior comments, so there is nothing new here to justify the boycott. And since I don't subscribe to HBO (and never will given the low quality of programming they show), my boycotting of HBO would be merely a token gesture.

There are two things I note. I've already alluded to the first: Bill Maher has no class. He thinks he is bright, enlightened and funny. I contend he is none of the three. Rather, he's more like the wise guy in middle school who thinks it's funny to say outrageous things while teachers stand and frown because in the broader picture the child doesn't have a clue. He chooses to use foul language about God and bring Hitler into the picture because he thinks it makes him edgy. He's wrong.

The second thing I wanted to point out is the article from the Washington Post that I cited earlier. Author Sally Jenkins makes an outstanding point in the article that I want to share. She asks what it is about Tebow's "Tebowing" and references to God that makes non-religious people like Maher squirm. She has a good answer:

What is so threatening about Tebow? It can’t be his views. Tebow has never once suggested God cares about football. Quite the opposite. It’s Maher and company who stupidly suggest a Tebow touchdown scores one for Evangelicals whereas an interception somehow chalks one up for atheism. Anyone who listens to Tebow knows he doesn’t do Jesus Talk, he’s mostly show and no tell. His idea of proselytizing is to tweet an abbreviated Bible citation. Mark 8:36. He leaves it up to you whether to look it up. When he takes a knee, it’s perfectly obvious that it’s an expression of humility. He’s crediting his perceived source, telling himself, don’t forget where you came from. On the whole, it’s more restrained than most end zone shimmies.

So why does Tebow’s expression of faith make people so silly-crazy? Why do they care what he does?

Because he emphasizes the aspect of his talent that is given, not earned.

And that makes people nervous. The reactions to Tebow seem to fall under the category of what theologian Michael J. Murray calls “Theo-phobia.” In his essay “Who’s Afraid of Religion?” Murray argues we’re ill at ease with intrusions of personal faith. We fear they could lead to oppression, or mania, or even prove us wrong. We prefer to keep religion at the abstract distance of historical or socio-cultural discussion, the safe range described by historian George Marsden, “like grandparents in an upwardly mobile family, tolerated and sometimes respected because of their service in the past. . . but otherwise expected either to be supportive or to stay out of the way and not say anything embarrassing.”

When Tebow kneels on the field, his religion becomes challengingly present. Tebow doesn’t have to get into a bunch of Jesus Talk to put you or me in an uncomfortable state of mind. It’s more subtle than that. Murray suggests, if I have a reaction to The Knee, it’s because Tebow implies “that there is something in the universe over and above the natural which deserves my attention, allegiance, or honor and I find that distasteful or irritating.”

Just when you’re trying to mindlessly surrender to an afternoon of pleasure, Tebow begs the question, what if faith actually, well, works? Regardless of whether you believe Tebow’s athletic talent is random and indiscriminate, or bestowed and directed, when you watch his fourth-quarter comebacks it is impossible not to notice that faith is an undeniable performance enhancer, at least as powerful as any drug. For whatever reason.

Good points. During this season of Emmanuel ("God with us"), Tebow's kneeling on the field reminds people that he (like many Christians) really does recognize that God is with us -- not only when we are in church but when we are at work or at play. Maher, and others semi-wits like him, want to ridicule that acknowledgement because it challenges their belief that only those things that they think are true are true.

I think I'll root for the Broncos to win on Sunday, and regardless of whether they do I will be happy to watch Tebow stop to recognize God and provide him with this small token of praise as the creator.

The problem – intellectual and emotional – of why what we call 'evil' exists is age-old, and an issue that every human being, whether atheist or Christian, ultimately is confronted with. Philosophically and intellectually, it seems to be fairly easily overcome (as I will hopefully try to explain below) in a Christian worldview, but pastorally and emotionally, it is terrible and devastating upon us all, from atheist to devout Christian. My argument would then be that the Christian worldview, in fact, provides both a much more hopeful answer and decent solution  to the pastoral issue, as well as coping intellectually with the problem. 

We can start with the intellectual response, where we can split the 'problem' into three forms: logical, evidential and emotional/pastoral. See more >>

Remember how long the articles in this miniseries were? (Starting here?) Did you ever wish I could have just trimmed some discussion out and moved along?

Well... I did. Specifically on Hebrews 1:8, which I ranked at the top of the list of examples where Jesus is called {ho theos} in the New Testament. There's a mind-scrummingly dull textual transmission issue there which I tried to spare my readers from since (1) it would have been a digression of exceedingly minor importance, and (2) it would take me a lonnnng slogging way to demonstrate why and how it's an exceedingly minor digression. At the end of an already-lengthy entry, in the middle of other lengthy entries?? What would be the point?!


So of course, since it was the top of the list, someone quickly brought up the textual transmission issue.

{facepalm}


Dr. BW, offsite, asks:

"Isn't there a textual variant with most translations providing the alternate, '...of the son, God is your throne... as the sceptor of His kingdom'? My inclination is that 'absolutely unambiguous' [as I called the grammatic argument there] exaggerates the case."

I assume he means "reported by most English translations", since the textual variant itself, while it has a few early respectable witnesses (including a papyrus), doesn't actually have any good text-critical argument in its favor on the basis of external attestation.

While it has three respectable early witnesses (Pap-46, "Aleph", and B), it only has those three textual witnesses at all, period, the end!

The other reading has equally early and respectable and monstrously wider attestation across categories and families, as well as backing by the Greek Septuagint Old Testament (by the way). If those three witnesses weren't respectably early and (in two cases) popular, there would be exactly no reason to go any further.

Unfortunately, they are. So this is only the beginning of the wicket we're going to be stuck chopping through in addressing this issue.

This super-minority textual variant, {autou}, "of him" (instead of {sou}, "of you"), doesn't make much grammatic sense there either. Translators of this variant's inclusion basically ignore it completely, and supply a "your" which isn't there anymore having actually been replaced by the super-minority {autou}!--which is why I'm willing to bet a Coke my reader won't find many translations trying to provide the alternate "God of him is your throne"!

You could take my word for it that this is the sum of the whole matter and move along; or if you insist on following out the details... remember, I did warn you!



Ho, weary readers! The end of this series is here!

This will be a handy summary page for my results. But I'll link to prior articles when speaking of each example, so that the argument can be seen in detail.


We're running out of groups of New Testament texts where Jesus isn't on rare occasion called {ho theos}! (Or {ton theon} or {tou theo} or some grammatic equivalent that still would translate to "the God" in English.)

Several times in the Johannine texts; at least once (maybe twice) in the Petrines; at least once (maybe two times) in Hebrews; at least once in the Pauline Pastorals (Titus); most likely once in Acts.

It's starting to look like the popular understanding on the topic may be reversed--Jesus might be called {ho theos} more often in the New Testament than He is called merely {theos}! (Although neither is particularly common of course.)


But these texts seem so late in composition. Maybe that makes a difference? (Actually, the supposed lateness of their composition hinges routinely on scholars recognizing high Christological characteristics in them and using that as evidence for late composition! Acts is the exception; its theories of late composition don't typically involve high Christology.)

Are there any texts widely agreed to be written earlier than the others, where Jesus is called {ho theos}? There shouldn't be--should there?!

Yes, Jesus is called {ho theos} on occasion across the Johannine texts. And at least once (maybe twice) in the Petrine texts. And at least once (maybe two times) in the Epistle to the Hebrews.

At this point, someone denying Jesus is ever called the God in the New Testament is in serious trouble.

But fortunately for such a person, Paul of Tarsus, the one NT author no one can get around (as C. S. Lewis used to call him) can be called on to save the day! For surely (unless Paul wrote EpistHeb) someone identified as Paul never calls Jesus {ho theos}!


(The reader expecting this had better be familiar with disappointment by now.)


Soooo, okay, maybe Jesus is (occasionally) called "the God" ({ho theos} and grammatic variants thereof) in the Johannine texts (Part 1 and Part 2), and in the Petrine texts (Part 3).

But what about the Pauline texts, huh?! None of them ever call Jesus "the God"!--right?!!

Your week, my reader, is about to get longer...


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