Thursday, May 16, 2019

Keyword: Abortion [Do the New Anti-Abortion and Heartbeat laws make women into State regulated Chattel?]

Keyword: Abortion

[*Disclaimer:* this gets long and philosophically complex. If you're just going to harp ad nauseum that abortion equates to murder, then don't bother responding. The moral reasoning and scientific knowledge that follows is too advanced for you.]

[*Disclaimer 2:* Serious responses only, please. That doesn't mean I don't want disagreement, but simply sharing twice-regurgitated anti-abortion rhetoric does not an educated opinion make.]

I'm wondering if certain anti-abortion bills trespass on anti-slavery laws.

If, for example, the legal claim is that the woman has NO autonomous right over her reproductive organs/choices, and the state -- by way of law and legislation -- forces her to be an incubator, effectively making her State-owned chattel, then does this not constitute a type of slavery?

I'd argue that it does. Owning another human being for forced labor, or owning any part of them, including their reproductive organs -- and by extension, their reproductive choices -- is a form of slavery.

Pro-life advocates may argue that abortion equates to murder even as they have NEVER adequately defined fetal personhood nor have they ever attempted to move beyond the anti-abortion rhetoric that doesn't seek to guilt people into thinking pro-choice/pro-abortion is the choice to murder babies (hint: it's NOT).

In my estimation, pro-life isn't a valid position because they've offered no valid argument. Their claim is merely that "life begins at conception."

Defining a starting point for a stage of biological development is fine. Attempting to define what fetal personhood would look like would be the next logical step. But they don't do this.

Instead, they move on to stripping the mother of her autonomous rights over her own body. That opens an ethical can of worms. Least of all because it's immoral and two wrongs do not make a right (by their own reasoning this would be obvious -- strangely it's not).

But "life at conception" isn't what they are attempting to define. The wording is actually a diversionary tactic because it sounds in-line with the scientific consensus which acknowledges biological stages and degrees of development of the fetus. The pro-life side, however, explicitly does not recognize such.

What they explicitly mean to say "personhood begins at conception" but, as we all know, this concept of 'fetal personhood' has nowhere been defined or even articulated to any degree of coherence.

Therefore, upon logical inspection, I argue that these new laws are not about defining fetal personhood or life but, in point of fact, enslaving women by legal means to become producers of children.

To me, this is just as bad as murder. So, I don't see how any pro-life advocate can square away this line of reasoning with any law that seeks to swap out one perceived evil for another equal or greater evil.

It seems that the emotional appeals and admonishments regarding "baby murder" and "killing infants" is just a smoke screen for a most sinister and draconian ploy to gain control and ownership of women's reproductive organs and place her child-rearing capacity under the control of the state.

Additionally, the new anti-abortion and heartbeat laws seem to want to act as a potential wedge to challenge Roe vs. Wade and other abortion legislation in an effort to maybe subvert it.

But without clearly defining their terminology first, all this does is lead to further ambiguity and confusion regarding any and all future legislation. This would, at best, make it impossible to later clarify their terms thereby causing endless litigation on every single case by case basis. It's a badly thought out strategy that relies more on gut emotion rather than clear, rational minded consideration.

Furthermore, it is my opinion that the heartbeat bills don't make any logical sense to anyone who understands that biological stages are real and that the heart develops prior to the brain and other organs so that the simple pump can supply blood and oxygen to the organism for cellular growth -- that it may mature to a fully grown fetus at a later point in the growth cycle.

It's an extremely early stage of development (est. 5 weeks) and the heartbeat comes along at around week 8 to help start to grow the brain which begins development at week 8 (it's nowhere near grown since we know gyrification or cortical folding doesn't occur until week 24 of development -- and this is why nearly all medical professionals say that 20 weeks is the limit for safe abortion practices -- because before this stage of development the human brain cannot perceive in the manner that is sufficient for claiming awareness, consciousness, or personhood).

This is why viability becomes an important issue at these early stages. Remember, week 20 is when the fetus is approximately halfway through its growth into a fully formed fetus. But you don't call a car that's halfway built a fully ready to drive off the lot vehicle.

The raw batter of pancake mix isn't a blueberry muffin before you add blueberries or bake it. So, why would such an early stage of a fetus be considered what it's clearly not?

The pro-life claim that a fetus is a fetus is a fetus ignores biological stages of development entirely. It's like arguing that eggs and milk is a cake is a cake is a cake. I'm afraid a few important steps are missing before such a claim can be made.

The reason they say this is because they want a blastocyst, zygote, fetus, baby, and child along with all the stages of development in-between to effectively mean the exact same thing.

But they are not the same thing. The science is clear on the matter of biological stages and the gestation period for fetal growth and development.

Calling a half grown fetus a full fetus with personhood even though its nervous system and brain have just started to develop seems premature. The definition doesn't describe the stage of development accurately nor is an adequate gauge to determine whether, as in the case of pro-life argumentation, such a kind of fetus deserves to be defined as something autonomous from the mother in terms of personhood, legal rights, or even identity.

If anybody was truly savvy on the philosophy of law, they might realize that identity minus an external reality, or even a limited external reality (e.g. a womb) would be hard to articulate what autonomy it could have or what autonomy we could recognize.

I've mentioned in the past that placing the identity and autonomy of the mother in direct opposition to the fetus is problematic at best because the law already recognizes there are limited forms of autonomy, for example, minors, felons, and legal aliens all have limited rights as compared to natural born citizens.

Minors have fewer rights than adults. And so to claim a fetus has rights that usurp an adult mother's creates a confused legal president where minor's rights are concerned. Either a new category of human rights needs to be created or we have to make laws that already fit in-line with the current legal understanding of the separation of minor and adult rights.

I believe that this needs to be cleared up before the fetus can be given rights that usurp the mother's will and autonomy.

These are just some of the issues of a few hundred that I've identified as weaknesses in the pro-life legislation that is currently being passed. All of the legislation, it seems, is being passed based on knee-jerk emotional reactions to hypothetical scenarios (not real ones) and an extremely poor understanding of women's health. Moreover, the moral reasoning behind the anti-abortion bills and legislation seems to be confused if not entirely lacking.

Despite these damming revelations which make much of the current pro-life legislation a barely laughable joke, the bills are still being passed into law.

This is truly frightening. Because we've skipped several necessary steps based on bad rhetoric and bad rhetoric alone to place women's reproductive rights under the control of the state, thereby placing ownership of her reproductive capabilities and organs under the state via legislation that denies her any choice in the matter.

If it sounds awfully a lot like ownership over a human being -- or more accurately over a part of them -- it's because it is. And that's not a legal president I think we should be setting in the year 2019.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Happy Easter! The Truth About the Resurrection of Jesus

With Easter Sunday approaching, I would like to look at the resurrection account of Jesus Christ from the historical perspective.
In other words, beyond the stories contained in the Christian Bible what does history really have to say about the event itself.
It’s commonly known that Christians in the 2nd and 3rd centuries didn’t read the New Testament because the New Testament didn’t exist yet. The New Testament scholar and historian Bart D. Ehrman teaches us that

The books themselves, of course, had been written, but they had not yet been collected into a sacred and authoritative canon of Scripture. The term canon refers to a collection of authoritative books. … our canon did not yet exist as an officially recognized collection during the second and third centuries.
He goes on to inform us that this was just the least of early Christians worries. Because there were so many books that were written and published together – all of them claiming to be authoritative – that it was difficult for early Christians to know what was a true story written by a real apostle of Jesus or which was just a rival Christian group trying to promote their brand of Christianity by making it sound more authentic by creating its own “authoritative works” while saying it was written by a real apostle of Jesus.
Other books were written at the same time, however, also claiming to be by Jesus’ followers. Each of the early Christian groups that maintained its own distinctive beliefs and practices had books that were believed to be written by Jesus’ own apostles—gospels, for example, allegedly written by his disciples Thomas and Philip, and Mary Magdalene… The existence of these “other” Scriptures leads to other questions.
So, in summary, Christians had a lot of stories. A lot! Approximately 325 years after the death of Jesus, however, they still were in the dark as to which were the true stories. This didn't sit well with the rapidly growing Church, because too many discordant beliefs breed discord, so it was decided by the Church fathers that a canonical version of Christian doctrines and stories needed to be decided upon.

They decided upon 27 books and rejected all the rest.

Christians were basically told what to believe as historically valid by the Church. They didn’t’ have the freedom to make up their own minds about what they were being fed as the God-given truth. They were ordered by the authority of the Church and from the pulpit to believe one way only – and any alternate beliefs (whether or not they may have been correct or historically valid) didn’t matter anymore. The issue was settled and other beliefs after the canonization of scripture were viewed as heretical.

I talk more on the history of canonization involving the New Testament in my overview of biblical canonization events in: Development of the Biblical Canon.

As you can probably imagine, this is just the first hurdle modern Christians must overcome when they think about the real historical context of their cherished beliefs. Are my beliefs true? They seem true. But how can I know? Where do my beliefs come from? Why do I believe this set of beliefs but other Christians believe something different? How come there are so many different types of Christianity? How come Jews and Muslims believe in the same religious stories as me?

The good thing is, there are answers to all these questions. And the answers are found inside history.

If your Biblical education merely consisted of Sunday school, you’d be forgiven for thinking the gospel stories in the Bible are historical accounts written by real historical people. The truth is, we don’t know who wrote them. The New Testament authors of the Gospels were anonymous.

It was only later that the Church fathers attributed the names of the Gospels to certain apostles based on their own guesses of who might be the most likely person to have written them – given the stories themselves.

Biblical historians later found that the Church fathers had given incorrect dates to their supposed publication. More embarrassing, perhaps, is that they even ordered the gospels incorrectly, placing Mark after Matthew and Luke even though it was discovered that Mark was the oldest and very first of the gospels to have been written.

This later became known as the Synoptic problem, because it seems that there was only one original story – Mark – which then got copied and changed by later writers with differing theological views and agendas. But then there were fragments that Luke and Matthew share that aren’t found in Mark and this is believed to come from a different source written several years before them. But we don’t have any surviving copy of this source so Biblical scholars nick-named it the Q source, stemming from the German word Quelle, meaning the source.
Even so, as many historians will testify, there’s no evidence for a Q source. So, where did the shared sayings come from? Well, Luke and Matthew may have known each other and may have been simply copying notes. But even this doesn’t seem likely. Meanwhile, the earliest copy of John doesn’t seem to even exist until around 110 AD.

As you can imagine, the real history behind who penned the gospels found in the New Testament gets pretty complicated.

It’s not the Christian’s fault that he/she doesn’t know any of this. Clearly, Churches aren’t the place to learn factual history. Churches are there to teach doctrine and theology and provide you with spiritual meaning in your life. Not discuss the nuances of ancient holy texts and their publication dates.

So, we must realize that we’re not talking about personal beliefs but we are talking about general knowledge.

Of course, there may be some overlap. But the historian isn’t here to tell you to believe something different than what you will. They’re simply here to present the historical evidence best they can--gauging what is most probable--and hope that our beliefs will fit with the bulwark of historical knowledge we do have. If not, well, that’s really not the historian's concern.

History isn’t about believing what you want to believe, or even what you’re told to believe, but it’s about revealing the historical truth to the best of our ability so that what we do believe will have some merit. So that our beliefs will be about something that was true rather than something false and made up.

Then, again, please don’t mistake me. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with having faith either. I have faith. I have faith that the sun will rise tomorrow as it always has. But that faith doesn’t explain why the sun rises or the history of our star’s stellar formation. For that, we need to seek out the evidence and look at all the clues that will help us piece together a historical framework of what the sun’s origin and course from past till present might look like.

And, yes, I’m fully aware of the criticism that much of history is simply a matter of filling in the gaps and that much of it appears made-up anyway. But that’s because history is a work in progress. We don’t have a direct path back to the past – there is no time machine we can hop in that will take us to the beginning that could help shed light on the events as they actually happened.

All we can do is make educated inferences based on real-world evidence and what events are more or less probable and then try our best to make sure that our guesses bridging historical evidence to the historical event are logically sound. If the evidence is strong, the probability is high, and the logic is sound then we can be confident that our model of history is at least an approximation of actual events. 
When the evidence is lacking, the probability is low, and the logic seems faulty -- then we need to go back to square one and begin our research all over again -- and maybe reserve our conclusions until a later date when better information is made available.

History is about determining, within reason, what course of events likely transpired on a given day during a given time period. What is the evidence? How do we know either way? And figuring all this out takes a lot of work and effort and is the task of the historian.

What, pray tell, does this have to do with Easter Sunday and the resurrection of Jesus Christ, you might ask. Well, a few things.

Christians may believe the events of Jesus Christ’s resurrection, for example, to be an account of genuine history, but a cursory glance at the historical evidence reveals that it’s likely not a historical event. I think you’ll agree that that’s a huge bubble to burst right there. But historians aren’t trying to be villains. They’re just trying to create a more accurate model of the past.

Why can historians say any one given event from Christian history, let alone the most important one, is probably not history with an ounce of confidence? Because frankly put, there’s no historical evidence for the resurrection ever having actually occurred.

The names of the places are real, sure. Because that’s the setting of the stories. Even Peter Parker swings around New York City as Spiderman. But we know Spiderman isn’t a historical figure even though New York City is a real place.

You see, we can look for the clues that Spiderman isn’t real in the same way a historian might look for clues to determine if Jesus was real.

We also can determine an ancient story’s validity from collaborating accounts. For example, we know that the Romans crucified criminals, for example, because it’s documented elsewhere. Flavius Josephus talks about it at length in his Antiquities and The Jewish War. Herodotus talks about crucifixions by the Persians in his Histories nearly 500 years before Jesus Christ was supposedly crucified. That’s how we know that crucifixion existed and was implemented as a form of punishment and humiliation. Others corroborate the details in their accounts of historical events.

But, here’s the thing, we don’t have any historical accounts of a guy named Jesus – who also claimed to be the Messiah – ever being crucified (minus the forgery found in Josephus’s Antiquities).

We only have the Bible stories found in the Bible written by Christians who wrote the Bible for other Christians to share and spread their Christian beliefs which all Christians liked to share and spread. And one of these beliefs is that a man claimed to be the son of God then died and then supposedly rose from the dead. That’s not historical evidence for a real event—or even a person—but evidence for things that Christians liked to commonly believe.
What it can’t be evidence of, however, are actual historical events. Not without corroborating evidence – of which there isn’t any that would be considered reliable.

I talk more about the extra-biblical evidence we do know of, that is the evidence outside of the Bible stories that corroborate their claims, in more detail in my essays The Extrabiblical ChristMyth of the Historical Jesus, and Discussing the Historicity of Jesus with a Christian Agnostic.

All three of my essays go into great detail about all the evidence we have related to Jesus and the resurrection. I discuss everything from Tacitus, to Pliny the Younger, to Lucian of Samosa, and the writings of Sextus Julius Africanus.

I also discuss the Babylonian Talmud as well as talk about how we know the oft-quoted line about Christ being crucified in Flavius Josephus’s Antiquities is a well-known forgery, as evidenced by Origen’s quoting an early version of the Antiquities without the forgery intact.

Even with all these ancient works seemingly supporting the Christian claim that Jesus was real and that he was crucified, none of their claims hold up. We know this because historians have studied them in detail and have found a number of problems with the dating or origin of the works. In some cases, earlier works are found that contradict later ones—showing that erroneous historical additions were added to the texts and so cannot be considered valid accounts of history. Without those parts, all corroborating evidence falls away. And we’re back to square one.

So, what is the New Testament really? Simply put, it is a collection of stories that were later voted on at the Council of Nicaea (325 AD) where a committee then determined which stories would be considered historical and which would not – even though no real historical research had been done. In other words, the historicity of the stories was mainly determined by whether or not the stories themselves fit with the theological doctrines of the Church at that time.

For Bart D. Ehrman, this raises an interesting problem for modern scholars regarding the correct historicity of the New Testament canon and the gospel stories.

If, in the second and third centuries, there were lots of apostolic books read by lots of Christian groups, which ones were right? Which wrong? Which were actually by apostles? How would we know?  Better yet, how did the church fathers who finalized our canon of twenty-seven books know? And what happened then to all the other books that did not make it in, once these particular Christian struggles were ended?
That has always been the struggle of the historian seeking the truth of the stories. The truth, historical or otherwise, always seems to be elusive.

Today’s Christians are free to take the history of their stories for granted. They are free to believe the stories represent genuine history (although 300 years of scholarship strongly suggests otherwise). Christians are free to believe, for example, that Jesus rose from the dead and that this is a historical account of something that happened in antiquity (although historians would caution us that this is a story based on what Christians commonly believed in the first, second, and third centuries but was never actually anything resembling a genuine historical account of the event).

According to the Biblical historian James D. Tabor in his book The Jesus Dynasty:

The standard Christian proclamation is well known: that Jesus was raised from the dead, that he appeared to many witnesses, and that he ascended into heaven, where he sits as the glorified Christ at the right hand of God, from where he will return at the end of the age to judge the living and the dead…. Three of our four New Testament gospels report “sightings” of Jesus to support the idea that he had been raised from the dead—Matthew, Luke and John. But what about Mark? Here we come to one of the most ignored and underrated facts of our story. As shocking as it may sound, the original manuscripts of the gospel of Mark report no appearances of the resurrected Jesus at all![ii]
In his book Lost Christianities, Ehrman reminds us that the original Gospel of Mark does not contain the virgin birth or post resurrection stories.[iv]

According to the New Testament historian and theologian David Trobisch, “The resurrected Christ has not appeared and the first witnesses ‘say nothing to anyone.’ This is the worst imaginable ending for a Gospel.”[v]

About the strange resurrectionless ending, professor Tabor is quick to remind us that

Such a shockingly “incomplete” ending could not be allowed to stand. It must have been deeply troubling to early Christians. Christianity was built upon the idea that Jesus appeared after his death to various individuals and groups. How could Mark have possibly left this out?... What happened was that pious scribes who copied Mark made up an ending for him and added it to his texts sometime in the late 2nd century A.D.—over one hundred years after the original text was composed![vi]
Even so, Christians still try to find ways to prove the historical existence of a quondam Jesus. Equally, the historian Richard Carrier reminds us that:

Christian apologists will often insist we have to explain the “fact” of the empty tomb. But…the evidence is not the discovery of an empty tomb but the existence of a story about the discovery of an empty tomb. That there was an actual empty tomb is only a theory… to explain the production of the story.... But this theory must be compared with other possible explanations of how and why that story came to exist… and these must be compared on the total examination of the evidence…. Hence, a common mistake is to confuse hypotheses about the evidence with the actual evidence itself.[viii]
I go into a little bit more detail about what historians know about the resurrection of Jesus in my essay Is the Resurrection Account of Jesus Fallacious? But I shall share a portion from my conclusion of the essay here, as it seems rather pertinent to the topic of discussion.

In my conclusion, I ask: what do these historical insights mean for the everyday practicing Christian? A lot actually.

At first glance, the evidence we do have seems to suggest some things aren’t what they initially appear to be. In fact, the evidence seems to directly stand in opposition to some core Christian beliefs. But the question of whether or not Jesus resurrected is just one part of a larger problem. The history surrounding the New Testament events, especially those found in the gospel stories, is extremely fuzzy. So fuzzy, in fact, that it could constitute historical blindness. 

The truth is, we simply don’t have good enough evidence to say the events found in the gospel stories ever happened. The evidence which Christian apologists traditionally cite is not without its flaws. Flaws which, contrary to the intent of those who cite them, actually compound the problem rather than adding any sense of clarity or understanding.

Other historical concerns could easily defeat the historical “truth” of Christianity as well. Concerns such as:

1)     It is more likely that Jesus was not born of a virgin (virgin stories were common for many famous and infamous figures throughout history: Alexander the Great, Pythagoras, Genghis Khan just to name a few) and even then the concept of virgin births was a fairly common belief in both ancient pagan religions (see Richard Carrier’s article on syncretism and cross-cultural pollination of ancient religions here). 

2)    Paul neglects to mention the virgin birth entirely (as if it never occurred at all), and furthermore, speaking of Paul’s being an unreliable narrator…and… 

3)    Paul only ever alludes to the spiritually risen Christ (not a bodily “resurrected” one) who, conveniently enough, speaks to him on the sun-baked desert road to Damascus in what may amount to no more than heat-stroke induced visions. 

4)    The earliest manuscripts of the Gospel of Mark neither contain a virgin birth nor a post-resurrection Christ, and that’s the gospel account the other gospels borrow from and then – apparently – embellish upon with increasingly flamboyant accounts of the same event. 

5)    Last but not least, the longer ending of Mark  seems to be purely a literary fabrication—(many scholars take Mark 16:8 as the original ending and believe that the longer ending [16:9-20] was a later addition)—and if it’s all pure fiction what is to suggest the rest of the Gospel accounts of the resurrection are not also later literary works and not historical accounts?

The answer is nothing. There’s nothing to suggest they weren’t merely fictional stories that Christians told other Christians in the same way that Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad were popular tales that the Greeks told to their fellow Greeks.

There’s nothing to say these accounts definitively happened but these accounts didn’t. They all equally appear to be fictions and the only historical evidence we have also suggests they’re works of fiction.

All this seemingly detracts from the debonair claim made by Christians that Jesus was divine, resurrected, and reappeared to his followers. History can be mundane like that.

At the same time, however, the history we do know casts doubt as to whether or not the Gospels are historically reliable at all. As it turns out, they seem to be mostly literary in origin only containing simple references to historical landmarks, names, and places. Yet this should not surprise us, for all literature contains these things.

Apologists have often retreated to the claim that, at the very least, we cannot know that the resurrection did not happen. But, then again, isn’t that what history is telling us? That it doesn’t look like there’s evidence for this event? That it’s more likely that it didn’t happen than vice versa?

I understand the reaction to want to defend your faith when the facts don’t line up to support you. You feel as though people are being dismissive of your personal beliefs. You want to defend those beliefs, so you look for justifications that jive with the evidence.  You don’t want to be told that what you’ve believed your whole life – ever since your parents, pastors, and peers told you to believe –  may not be what you thought it was. I get that. I can sympathize.

Those of you who’ve followed my blog's history will know I began my blogging career as a Christian under the site Chronicles of a Sympathetic Christian. I asked many of the same questions I do now. But, unlike then, I found answers. Answers that didn’t sit well with my Christian beliefs.

I was that Christian. I was a devout believer for 30 years trying my best to reconcile my faith with the historical facts. But faith and facts rarely mix well.

When I began to study history, I learned that my faith was fragile. It was predicated on beliefs that were not well founded. Beliefs that I wanted desperately to prove true—but couldn’t. I got myself a history degree, hoping that would let me prove the validity of my religious beliefs. Soon after graduating, I became an atheist. And the rest, as they say, is history.

I’m sure that no matter what evidence is presented, positive or negative, many will continue to hold onto their cherished religious beliefs. That’s fine. I’m not here to tell you what you can or cannot believe. I’m merely stating what we can know with any given certainty. And things are by no means certain.

You may wonder, how can I say this? What is the ultimate nail in the proverbial coffin that disproves Jesus and the resurrection account as found in the gospel stories?

The answer, as I have found out over two decades of researching this topic, is elusive at best. At worst, downright infuriating.

We can no more know that Jesus was resurrected from the dead on the third day than we can know if Julius Caesar was born by cesarean section.

That’s the best state of the historical evidence regarding Jesus and the resurrection we have to date. Literally, we don’t know.

Julius Caesar may have been born via cesarean section and Jesus may have been bodily resurrected from the dead—that is, after all, what the stories about these men tell us. And, hey, almost anything is possible. However, these scenarios are mostly unfeasible if not highly improbable.

At the end of the day, you can choose to believe or not. You can follow the evidence wherever it may lead or take a leap of faith.

The fact remains, stating in defense of your faith that we cannot prove they did not happen does not improve our understanding of the past. It’s a criticism most historians would likely just shrug off. And they’d be right to do so.

Such admissions should be viewed as a weakness to the overall historical framework, not as a boon to the person of faith who desperately wants to have it both ways.

At the end of the day, the overwhelming lack of any ancillary contemporaneous information regarding the resurrection, whether or not we can prove it happened, simply amounts to the implicit acknowledgment that, as Frank R. Zindler once asserted, no one will ever provide convincing evidence for the historicity of Jesus.

That’s not a strong position to mount a defense of the Christian faith on.

And that’s why I, as a historian, must err on the side of caution.

Do I think Jesus was a real historical figure? The truth is, I simply cannot say with any certainty.

Do I think Christians are correct in assuming Jesus was real and died upon the cross? No. Because, again, I don’t see any evidence to suggest that a person named Jesus ever died on the cross except for a handful of stories all written by a people predisposed to believe those precise kinds of stories.

Do I think the resurrection even happened? No, I do not – for all the reasons mentioned above and in all the connected essays.

You may find yourself wondering when all is said and done, what do I believe in, then?

What matters to me?

Lots of things. But they don’t hinge upon a person of antiquity absolutely needing to be real to justify my belief that he also happened to be the son of God and died for my sins.

That is not a belief I can, knowing what history has to say, hold in good conscience.

Whatever else I may believe has to do with living my life in the best possible way I know how and being kind to others.

As Thomas Paine once so eloquently put it, “I view things as they are, without regard to place or person; my country is the world, and my religion is to do good.”

I share this sentiment too. That is just one of the things I believe of countless other things that make my life meaningful. A man having died 2,000 years ago on a wooden plank simply isn’t a belief that’s in any way meaningful to me.

Nowadays, like Paine, I believe in doing good and in looking at the world with my eyes wide-open. Whatever destination your personal journey brings you to is yours and yours alone. I can only hope that with it comes clarity and peace of mind. I hope nothing I said here ruined your day. As I said, beliefs are beliefs and knowledge is knowledge and sometimes the two go hand in hand and other times they turn away from one another like opposite ends of a magnet. That’s just how it goes, I suppose.

At any rate, I wish everyone a Happy Easter!

Works Cited

James D. Tabor, The Jesus Dynasty, pp. 228, 230

Bart D. Ehrman, Lost Christianities, pp.78, 220.

Hoffmann, R. Joseph. Sources of the Jesus Tradition: Separating History from Myth. Prometheus Books, 2010.

David Trobisch, “The Authorized Version of His Birth and Death,” in Sources of the Jesus Tradition, ed. R. Joseph Hoffmann, p.135

Richard Carrier, “Bayes’s Theorem for Beginners,” in Sources of the Jesus Tradition, pp.

Lost Christianity’s course guidebook, The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill:

Other notable scholars who have talke at length on the literary and perhaps fictional roots of Jesus Christ:

Charles Francois Dupuis,

Constantine-Francois Volney,

Bruno Bauer,

Arthur Drews,

John M. Allegro,

G.A Wells,

Alvar Ellegard,

Robert M. Price,

Earl Doherty,

Richard Carrier,

Thomas L. Thompson,

R. Joseph Hoffmann

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Chick-fil-A Hates Gay People: But It's okay because they sometimes give you free chicken sandwiches!


Where do I even begin?

Although I've taken early retirement from blogging here on the Advocatus Atheist and I'm doing my best to avoid talking about religion and politics, every once in a while I see something pop up in my social media feed that boggles my mind.

There are times when it's impossible to bite my tongue and I may, from time to time, open my big mouth. This, in turn, sometimes drags me into a larger debate than I initially cared to get into.

Except, sometimes the apathetic stance of not caring is the more damaging stance to take.

Sometimes, you have to speak out and say something against the bigotry and prejudice that people fling about with reckless abandon. 

Sometimes, you just have to bite the bullet and get your intellectual hands dirty with the dialectic.

Chick-fil-A Hates Gay People: My Internet Debate (Part 1)

So, there I was, minding my own business.

Then an article about Chick-fil-A pops up in my feed. Then another. And another.

Several of my Christian friends and acquaintances got up in arms about it. A couple of them even went into full-on persecution complex mode.

I tried to ignore it.

I really did.

But alas, sometimes something so trivial ends up being a bigger deal then it ought to.

This is one of those times.

Let me explain at the outset that I'm not trying to personally attack anyone. But sometimes a stupid belief must be challenged because that belief is also damaging.

And also this discussion happened in private on Facebook, the person doesn't use their real name so the screen-caps are no way in danger of exposing their true identity.

But before we get into it, please understand that the criticism I'll be giving isn't meant as a personal attack against this person. It's meant as an honest critique of a pernicious ideology they hold that promotes a bigoted and prejudiced worldview.

So, an online acquaintance shared this news about Chick-fil-A being denied a commercial permit to open a restaurant in the San Antonio Airport. The San Antonio city council voted on banning Chick-fil-A.

Her initial post looked something like this:

At first, I was confused as to why she'd argue that San Antonio is discriminating against Christian beliefs. They're clearly not. They're discriminating against discriminatory anti-LGBTQ beliefs.

That's a big distinction.

Because not all Christians hate gays. So, clearly, San Antonio isn't discriminating against all Christians. Only the hateful gay-bashing ones.

I see nothing wrong with wanting to ban that type of prejudice from your city or airport, or wherever.

But she was adamant about it being an attack against Christians and therefore was an attack on her Christian faith.

That's a pretty big leap right there.

The only reason for a person to make this kind of leap is because they want to defend their sexist and homophobic ideology by placing it under the banner of their faith. If it's part of their sacred faith, then how dare you criticize it!

Otherwise, she wouldn't have likely said anything.

The San Antonio city council's reasoning makes sense.

If there are a certain amount of gay customers coming through the airport, having a company that actively funds dangerous and harmful charities which in turn direct dangerous and harmful programs that directly affect LGTBQ people, then they might not feel a sense of equality or acceptance by a place that allows such hurtful ideologies.

The article by the San Antonio News 4 states as much when it reads:

"San Antonio is a city full of compassion, and we do not have room in our public facilities for a business with a legacy of anti-LGBTQ behavior."

It's very simply stated. And I couldn't agree more with the San Antonio city council and I commend them on sticking to upright values and non-discriminatory practices by banning a corporation known for spreading and propagating discrimination against the LGBTQ community.

Now, it's no secret. Chick-fil-A has been accused of an anti-LGBTQ stance more than once. Something that has gotten them into hot water before.

As VOX reports:

So, you have these corporate business owners using their companies as a shield to give to charities and groups that share blatantly hurtful and spread undeniably harmful beliefs and which, as a direct consequence, push unfair and unethical values on the groups they discriminate against.

It's worse than this even. Chick-fil-A has donated to groups that preach that gays "deserve death" and that practice conversion therapy because same-sex marriage is a "rage against Jesus..."

Meanwhile, all the top medical organizations agree. Conversion therapy is harmful and there are no known benefits to its practice. The American Psychological Association, the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the American Counseling Association have all issued statements against the practice.

But Chick-fil-A financially backs a callous and barbaric practice that is shunned by the consensus of medical institutions as harmful. The fact that gays are the intended target of this practice, a practice of harming gays, should not be lost on us.
Not only this, but when Chick-fil-A's CEO Dan Cathy initially made a slew of homophobic remarks, it sparked enough controversy to prompt him to make the promise that Chick-fil-A would no longer donate to anti-LGBTQ causes, as detailed by the .

But as recently revealed by a ThinkProgress report, this doesn't seem to be the case. 

Chick-fil-A, it appears, has continued to donate to anti-LGBTQ groups despite its claim that it would stop doing so. And so it has continued to actively fund this brand of intolerant homophobia and sexism via the 1.8 million in donations given to anti-LGBTQ groups.

Chick-fil-A Hates Gay People: My Internet Debate (Part 2)

Obviously, knowing what anyone can know through the powers of the Internet and the ability to Google, I was a little dumbstruck by R's comments.

It's quite clear that Chick-fil-A has a long history of bigoted, anti-LGBTQ, anti-gay agendas and remarks and continues to actively fund groups that promote these unethical values.

In fact, the conclusion of the VOX article states it best:

I think the San Antonio city council saw that these unethical values sponsored and funded by Chick-fil-A and its numerous charities did not fit with the inclusive and unhateful views of the majority of the fine people of San Antonio. 

Nowhere in any of this does anti-Christian prejudice entire the equation. This isn't about Christianity. It's about treating your fellow human beings with love and acceptance. And it's about not promoting corporations that actively seek to spread bigotry, harm, homophobia, and anti-LGBTQ agendas.

It's about promoting loving values and demoting hateful ones.

Simple as that.

My friend didn't seem to think so.

But if you know me, you know that I hate bigoted and prejudice views that promote active harm and hate against any group, whether it be gay or Christian.

So, baffled by my friends defense of Chick-fil-A's obviously anti-gay rights agenda, I had to comment.

Of course, I was taking into account the Vox article which popped up when you Google anything Chick-fil-A related, which is why I assumed it to be public knowledge.

I'm not sure if -R was aware of this. But how could one not be? It pops up because it covers all the details of the so-called Chick-fil-A controversy. Unless you're living with your head in the sand, it's hard not to be aware of it. So, I gave her the benefit of the doubt and assumed she had at least a cursory understanding of the events that lead up to San Antonio's decision.

But she seemed offended by my disagreement.

I don't know what a better excuse could be than to tell a well known anti-LGBTQ company that you don't want their brand of bigotry and hate-filled prejudice darkening your doorstep.

That so many Christians should defend these anti-LGBTQ, anti-gay and anti-trans views is troubling. But, again, it's not all Christians.

Loving Christians have no trouble with LGBTQ communities because they know that nowhere in the Bible does Jesus ever say anything against such people. They desire to share God's love by loving their fellow neighbors as themselves. This is the Christian way.

But the question becomes, can you be a good, loving Christian yet support an organization that spreads hate-filled and bigoted views of people you profess to love?

Not if you're truly loving.

But if you're a bigot, then sure.

Chick-fil-A Hates Gay People: My Internet Debate (Part 3)

I thought that since -R seemed to be missing the point -- that you can't support promoters of hate and then claim you had no part in the hate that has been spread -- I thought I'd try to paint an analogy. After all, analogies often help to highlight a point or some nuance or another that you couldn't see otherwise.

So I continued with this statement:

Obviously, my analogy uses race, as religion an race are so often tied together (ask any Jew or Muslim and they'll likely tell you the same) with the hope of showing how by my actively supporting a hateful group I actively seek to promote the spread of this hateful group's hateful and harmful ideologies.

It came as a big surprise, as you may have guessed, when -R not only took offense by this, but admonished me for daring to make such an analogy in the first place.

Respectable disagreement is part of any mature and meaningful dialectical. 

But, the fact remains, disagreeing with someone doesn't automatically mean that you're right and they're wrong. And when it comes to ethical concerns, right and wrong do matter.

So, I had to cringe when -R grew defensive. It seemed to me she wanted the echo-chamber, not cordial disagreement. Therefore, before I could explain my reasons, she shut down the conversation.

And since it was her Facebook wall, I didn't feel I had the right to push the matter any further.

But this isn't my Facebook wall. This is my blog. One in which I carefully examine cultural and political ideas and then share my thoughts on such subjects.

I find it troubling that -R virtue signals here. She doesn't treat her LGBTQ friends any differently than her non-LGBTQ friends. Well, that's great. I mean, if that's all she was doing.

But she uses this dodge to (maybe) convince herself she's a good person even though she pays money to fund an establishment that actively seeks to fund the hate and bigotry of LGBTQ people.

But to criticize the promotion of these anti-LGBTQ values is to be anti-Christian?

How's this?

I personally don't see how the two are connected unless you're going as far to say that anti-LGBTQ stance is inherently Christian.

I don't think it is. And I was a Christian for over 30 years; so I ought to know. (Coincidentally enough, I was a Christian longer than -R has been alive, but that's anecdotal and neither here nor there).

Before ducking out, however, I wanted to clarify that I wasn't trying to ruffle any feathers, but I just wanted to point out the illogic, not to mention hypocrisy, of saying your love your fellow LGBTQ people and then turn around and support overtly anti-LGBTQ groups.

But -R, already defensive for my pointing out you can't pretend to love the LGBTQ community and, at the same time, anti-LGTBQ establishments, had a few more words to say.

Actually, she's right and wrong. It wasn't the only thing I was doing. But, it doesn't take a moral philosopher to see that supporting your fellow LGBTQ community and supporting a company that promotes and sponsors anti-LGBTQ ideologies and rhetoric isn't logically consistent, that wasn't my only point. 

I wanted to turn the discussion to how her criticism of San Antonio's handling of the situation was a blatant misrepresentation of the situation and that playing the persecution card doesn't automatically give you an out in this case. I was setting up my argument by starting with the analogy. 

From there, I was going to explain how it would be illogical to say I love people of color while actively funding a group that promotes hate, bigotry, and harmful ideologies regarding people of color. 

The analogy is sound, even though -R told me not to "compare her religious beliefs to racial ideologies." Both are like-minded prejudices. Both come from a place of ignorance and fear. And if your religion teaches that being gay is bad, then your religion teaches bigotry. 

It's as simple as that.

However, seeing that -R was growing upset, I decided to graciously bow out. And we parted ways.

I don't know if -R was just being cheeky by trying to get the last word in, but I couldn't help but feel it was a little condescending. Especially since she shut down the dialectic before the reasons for the objection could be clearly stated. And, since I'm much older than -R, and I'm not from Texas, the use of hon just rubbed me the wrong way.

Hey, I was doing my best to be polite and present my disagreement as cordially as possible. But -R wasn't having it and didn't want to let it go. Naturally, I could have been the proverbial atheist-smart-ass and drug out the conversation and antagonized her, but that would have been bad form. It wasn't about me embarrassing her on her own page. It was about me pointing out the inconsistency in professing you love your fellow LGBTQ folks but endorsing companies that promote hate and harm on that very same group of people. That's the opposite of loving.

And I found it shocking that -R couldn't make that connection, because in the back of her mind, to have that point made was to voice prejudice against her personal faith.

And, she's not entirely wrong. Any righteous and ethical person would be prejudice against archaic religious beliefs that promote bigotry and hate.

That's precisely why we MUST criticize such harmful beliefs and ideologies.

You don't get a free pass just because you believe in God.

I'm sorry, it simply doesn't work that way.


You may be wondering why I wanted to give my commentary on this little drama. 

Well, my reasons are two-fold.

First, I've seen a resurgence of racism, xenophobia, and intolerance across the board. 

I thought I had said all I needed to say on such small-mindedness, but it rears its ugly head again and again. And every once in a while I just get fed up. It's kind of like playing Whack-a-Mole. You can pound down those degenerate ideologies again and again, but they seem to have a way of popping back up again.

Secondly, I just couldn't abide seeing a friendly acquaintance of mine endorsing a company that actively promotes hate and bigotry and then incorrectly assert it's everyone else who is being intolerant of her views.

She has it completely bass-ass-backward, and I sincerely feel this is one of those times that apathy would only let such narrow-minded views spread without so much as a proper response. That's why I responded as I have.

Before I go, though, I just want to share one last point.

I had all but forgotten about this conversation until a person, who we'll simply refer to as Amy, decided to leave a doozy of a comment. Her comments are pure comedic gold, so I just had to share them.

And then there's dear, sweet Amy. She's the *other* kind of Christian. 

The Planned Parenthood analogy would have been a good one if what Christian propagandists say about Planned Parenthood is at all true. But since we know it's not, it misses the mark.

To be fair to poor Amy, though, I do get her point. Many Christians don't believe in abortion. So, you wouldn't want to support companies that fund things like... hospitals... where abortions frequently take place.

But there's a reason abortions take place at hospitals. Because abortion is a necessary medical procedure in nearly every instance where it is practiced.

It's not, for example, women going into unmarked vans in some darkened alleyway and having her baby ripped out and then thrown into a dumpster. That's pure propaganda.

Abortion is a medical procedure that happens mainly at clinics and hospitals and is carried out by medical professionals, e.g. doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals.

Other than that small difference, I can see what she means.

She's referencing her personal values and how taking a babies life is, in her mind, a wrong much like spreading hate for gays is also wrong. I get it. I do.

But...and you knew it was coming...I would, however, like to point out that deliberately spreading hate for the LGBTQ community is not entirely the same as supporting a necessary and valid medical procedure that is intended to save women's lives. Those things aren't entirely the same in terms of moral equivalence.

The confusion often arises because many Christians buy into the baby murdering rhetoric of radical right-wing groups that want to dictate a woman's reproductive rights. But that's a discussion for another time.

What I really found enjoyable was Amy's chicken sandwich story.

Not only does lovable Amy have gay friends who love Chick-fil-A (for real!) she also once got a free sandwich from them. And that's why it's fine to support Chick-fil-A and their anti-LGBTQ bigotry!

Okay, she didn't exactly put it that way. But when she couches it in terms of the analogy she's responding to, her point comes off as rather comical. Abortion is bad, but free sandwiches are good, so Chick-fil-A is good, even though they're actually really, really BAD.

We love you Amy. Never change.


NEWS 4 coverage:

VOX article:

BUZZFEED on Civil Right Agenda report

ThinkProgress report:

Advocatus Atheist

Advocatus Atheist