Thursday, January 28, 2010

Psalm 14: Poetry or Propaganda?


“The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God.”(KJV)

Many evangelical Christians like to quote from Psalm 14:1 to show that atheism is a rebellious form of foolishness which corrupts the person so that “They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.”

Yet is this unflattering attempt at demonization simply directed at nonbelievers in general? Or is it something more?

First a distinction needs to be made. Atheism is not an emotional position of understanding, nor is it a nihilist philosophy about the belief in nothing (as so often wrongly assumed). It lacks a dogma to drive it toward devotional convictions and believing blinding in doctrine (a doctrine it lacks). Atheism, simply put, is the lack of belief in the supernatural, period. It's not unbelief, it is disbelief. Atheist believe in many things, God just isn't one of them.

Religion, by and far, is largely predicated on emotional feelings of a deep seeded desire to be loved, to belong, to be worthy, all seemingly human desires, with the exception of the last bit to prove oneself through pious service to a divine being. This amendment, in God we trust, makes religion a romance affair between peoples emotions and their supernatural inclinations, hopes, and fantasies. Atheism is not any of these things.

Instead, one might define atheism as a cogent position stemming from an epistemic knowledge gained by sound reason and solid logic. It’s a deduction of the evidence we do have, a criticism of the evidence we should have in prolific abundance but do not (the more problematic element I would add), and finally, the conclusion the atheist makes is that there is not enough trustworthy evidence to sustain a belief in the supernatural, and everything else is philosophically unstable or fails to hold up to exacting scrutiny. This doesn’t mean a believer can’t have faith, because their concept of deism is (at the least) plausible, but what it does mean is that faith is virtually untenable, therefore unjustifiable, from a critical, skeptical, and well informed outlook.

Atheism is a skeptical position derived from the keener understanding of the proposition, and it uses rationalism as a tool to logically scrutinize and critically analyze the claims of religion. So the question is, when Christians cite Psalms 14:1 as a proof that atheism is a deficiency, and that it can only lead to corruption, abominable acts, and no good can come from it, are they simply reacting to an emotional conviction based on the dogma which with impolite persiflage attacks the character of the atheist in an attempt to pervert public opinion by subverting any redeeming goodness a nonbeliever might innately have?

I would argue yes, insofar as the way modern Christians tend to use this verse as a form of blackmail. A form of blackmail which tries to subvert the goodness of the nonbeliever by perverting their moral character, thereby degrading the nonbeliever, and giving religious people an excuse to despise, or otherwise, distrust the character of those who don’t subscribe to their belief or sect. But even this religious wrought moral persecution is not without criticism, since if we take time to actually think about it, the verse in question merely talks about the “heart” and not the mind. Accordingly, we cannot blame the atheist who has rejected the tenets of religious faith based on rational means. Most atheists I know are privy to the fact that religion does not answer many questions which they can find in science and other world philosophies, and that faith is by no means an enhancement to this deficiency.

As for the propensity to believe in the supernatural, one traditionally has to set aside rational arguments in order to defend their faith based position, and this only leaves a one dimensional emotional layer left to criticize, and often believers feel offended at any askance which should befall them. Apologetics is necessary to defend the believers position, but I find apologetics is never, and can never, be fully objective since it always takes the supernaturalist’s position and begins from there. In order to be truly dispassionate, one must approach one’s beliefs strictly objectively, and take the role of the scientist. Only then will a person see into the inner depths of their own beliefs, but refusing to do so is simply a stratagem that seeks to avoid answering the questions religion is incapable of answering.

Suffice to say, if any religion did answer all questions fully, properly, and satisfactorily there would be no need for apologetics to defend the merit of the religion or the faith in the first place.

But Psalms 14:1 is not just a way to subject the other to slander, but it’s also a form of fideism, or the doctrine that knowledge depends on faith or revelation from god. It’s saying quite literally that those who reject the Christian God are not only being foolish, but they literally equate to fools, since without faith they could never gain proper knowledge about God—and so their opinion is worthless. Again, I cannot see how this is not a biased position which automatically denies any other possibility or belief system than its own.

Even so, when we read Psalm chapter 14 in full, particularly 14:7, we find that it has a very specific agenda in mind. “Oh that the salvation of Israel were come out of Zion! When the LORD bringeth back the captivity of his people, Jacob shall rejoice, and Israel shall be glad.”

Indeed, the hidden agenda is not so hidden after all. It is apparent that Psalm 14 is a planned attack on those who inhabit the land holy to Jews yet do not believe in the Jewish god. It is a verse which demonizes the gentile and the pagan and the Roman and the Greek and the Arab and all those who are not of the chosen people. It is saying quite clearly, “There are fools in our land! But we will rejoice when God takes Zion back and restores our fortunes!” Never mind how bad of an idea this is in today’s nuclear world. Never mind that Israel’s establishing settlements on the West Bank constitutes theft, and is illegal. Never mind about all that, what is important to note, is Psalm 14’s political message is clearly, without a doubt, propaganda and not poetry.

Antiquated as the sentiment behind Psalm 14 is in the twenty-first century, I still can’t help but find it a little bit insulting. For of a couple of reasons:

1) Ad Hominems: There is no reason to demonize and devalue other people simply because you disagree with them. Ad hominem attacks are used in one of either two ways. First, as a sensationalist tactic to direct attention to oneself, and secondly, as a way to run around the issue without having to account for dodging the question. If anything ad hominem attacks are evidence of someone who is failing to win the argument and is, in all likelihood, incapable of defending their position so they seek to tear down their opponent instead of having to admit defeat and forfeit the debate.The reason religious types resort to it so often it is almost absurd, is because in three thousand years their arguments haven't gotten any better. The atheist and skeptical ones have--as they have progressed along with advances in science and human understanding.

2) Brazen Audacity: As I stated earlier, I never based my atheism on baseless emotionally charged faith based proclivities, but rather, I came to my atheistic stance via a process of objective reasoning, and since it was the choice which left me with the least cognitive dissidence, it was the preferable choice. Granted I may be wrong, but to be proved wrong requires better evidence and explanation, and I am fully open to correct my opinion and changed my mind when I am shown convincing evidence, but as every erudite person knows, incredible claims require equally incredible evidence.

With confidence I think we can say that so far no person of faith has offered any convincing evidence which would hold up to scrutiny adequately enough to cause the most resolute skeptic to reconsider the religious proposition, otherwise we would not be having this debate. And I simply cannot just give them the benefit of the doubt, since their position is not readily tenable. When supposition is all you have to offer you need to earn your comeuppance, that includes gaining credibility and trust and so on.  But religious people often like to pretend they know more than they actually do, state emphatically that God is certain, swear on their holy books that if faith is good enough for them then it should be good enough for anyone, they propose a never ending myriad of ways you ought to live according to their worldviews, and it is in this audacity where they lose my respect, and it is in their failure to answer basic questions they swear they have the answers to where they lose my interest. The bottom line is this, believers need to make their beliefs believable before others will even start to consider them.

So when a believer quotes to me “The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God,” I can’t help but see this as a clear admission that they have no real ground to stand on. For this ad hominem is the first step to the inevitable surrender of faith, it’s the first sign that, whether they will admit it or not, they are losing ground, and their position is in danger of being overtaken by the advancing forces of science, rationality, and better reason. And although this predicted scenario may not be entirely certain, something even I admit, what is certain is, if it should come to pass, as an atheist I have nothing to lose. The person of faith has everything to lose.

The fool may have said in his heart there is no God, but let me tell you what the atheist has said, while holding fast to intellectual honesty, prove God to me in a convincing fashion, that is testable, dependable, and which is corroborated, and which stands up to scrutiny, and does not have discrepancies or irreconcilable difficulties, and which offers a better alternative to everything I believe in, and which makes good on its promises, and is supported by a superfluity of evidence so convincing that it is virtually undeniable, and this might be persuasive enough to sway my intellect

But fool I am not, and that’s why I always wait for the evidence to come in before making decisions. Being prudent and thoughtful is a better virtue, in my estimation, than resorting to brash zealousness. Moreover, an educated guess resulting from a long process of tried and tested, not to forget, critically applied methods is far superior to making a leap of faith and hoping beyond hope that you *might be right. If anything at all, if I may be so bold, it is the religious who take things on faith who are being imprudent, which, ironically enough, is nearly indistinguishable from the foolishness they claim about everyone else—the claim being that a foolish person is one who refuses to understand the truth when it is staring them in the face. In this sense (fideism aside) I would have to agree, those who wish to remain ignorant rather than come to an improved understanding are being fools.


The Advocatus Atheist

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

My Atheist Goat Got Trumped!

Yesterday my atheist goat was irate, but today a friend I grew up with who has had a born again Christian experience has made this fundamentalist statement:

Personally, everyday I thank God that I'm his slave/servant/bond-servant.
I can't even put into words how deeply sad this made me feel. To live under this kind of delusion and think it is in some way healthy or okay?  
It’s, regrettably, the surf mentality and the abject worship of authority. It's sadomasochistic devotion to a capricious and unruly dictator whether or not one believes it is their brand of god.
Not to mention it's creepy, like the Pope whipping himself. But I think this pitiful opinion speaks for itself.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

My Nonbelieving Goat Gets Irate!

I was reading a Christian friend's Facebook page when I stumbled across a post on what "God Wants You To Know," a quaint devotional bit sent out as a motivational faith bolstering piece of propaganda to subscribers. It read:

... that there is a miracle waiting for you this minute, -please make room for it in your thinking. God has no need to prove anything to you, so if you don't believe in miracles, you are not likely to receive one. How do you believe in miracles? You believe by keeping ...your eyes open, - miracles often come in ways unexpected, and might leave unrecognized unless you pay attention.

My reply was thus:

"...if you don't believe in miracles, you are not likely to receive one."

That's conjecture on the behalf of whoever wrote that. They are assuming God does not work in mysterious ways, as if they knew the mind of God in the first place, neglecting to consider that as God he very well could perform a miracle on a nonbeliever just for kicks and giggles.

I hate it when people write stupid things without thinking about what they are saying. "God has no need to prove anything to you..." Indeed. Why should he if he is an almighty being? But this begs the question, why do believers need "proving"? Because faith would not exist without that which it is predicated on--the proof in God's words. Let's take the whole story of Jesus away, in fact, let's pretend the Bible never existed at all, and see if "God has no need to prove anything to you..." still makes any sense. Prove what, again? One's religion maybe? For that would require doctrine to put one's faith into in the first place.

Logic is lost on some people. (I'm merely making generalizations... this isn't anything about anybody  personally, but things like this just really get my goat.)

We haven't even addressed the impractical nature of miracles and incredibility of miracle claims, but instead of actually offering reliable support of a miracle to substantiate the bald faced assumption that miracles are real, this blurb simply asks us all to "believe" by making room in our minds for the implausible.

Notice what it's doing, it's asserting that it's position is valid (without offering anything which could validate it), it asks that we don't question it (a common tactic in apologetics), and it presumes to know what God is thinking while taking the stance that all skepticism is unnecessary for believing in unsupported, unfounded, and virtually impossible claims. It's asking you not to doubt, not to think critically, and not to demand validation for the claim. Just go along with it... and you'll see.

Yes, I see. It is asking us to happily submit to intellectual slavery, relinquish our better reason, to believe in bogus claims, bunk, and balderdash. To me, this is the epitome of OFFENSIVENESS.

And Christians wonder why atheists are always angry? Well, it would be good advice to stop provoking us by poking and prodding us with your sticks of mass stupidity and aggravating our logic with time wasting twaddle and claptrap so immense, so utterly and completely void of logic, that like a black hole, it generates its own gravitational field. I mean, if believers want to be taken seriously they have to offer something more than ill-(in)formed, unsupported, and logically unsound arguments so deficient a three year old could point it out to you. I dare say, it's just not worth all the aggravation, but somebody had to say it.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Atheist Tactical Secrets: Overwhelming Christians with Information

I've been receiving friendly emails from believers and nonbelievers alike commenting and sometimes even complimenting my writing here. I'm truly grateful for all the positive feedback.

One recent email got me to thinking, and I want to re-post my commentary here, because I think it's a great insight into one of the many transitions of the religionist mind set to a more free thinking mind set.

Dear Friend,

I've been out of Christianity for roughly a year now. I was a Fundamentalist Christian for 29 1/2 years, nearly 3 decades. But even though I'm happy that I've gained enlightenment, I don't regret my time as a Christian, because I learned a lot about the faith and without those more evangelical and radical experiences I may still be a believing Christian today. So in a way, I have my piety and zeal to thank for showing me the corrupted and dangerous ways of dogma.

That said, one does have to desire to, as Kant phrased it, dare to know. Pretending to know, as many Christians are wont to do, just doesn't pass muster. What's more, I tend to agree with Socrates that the unexamined life isn't one worth living, since you'd simply be living somebody else's ideal life according to their views, not your own. It would amount to little more than intellectual slavery, and I find that's what most religion amounts to too.

Friend, I'm glad you think I express things clearly. That's been the biggest challenge... to write comprehensively.

When I get emails from Christians they are frequently all over the place, they rarely ever have a decisive point, other than they're rehearsing all the rhetorical arguments they know, quoting them line and verse. Theists rarely ever support their comments with sources or citations. They rarely ever go outside of the Bible to argue their position. They know almost nothing about Christianity's origins or the history of their faith. When I realized I was this sort of Christian, I realized I was talking out of my hat, and I went back to re-educate myself on what I thought I knew.

I have many friends which are still devout Christians who email me regularly with criticisms of my writings or things I say and they always seem more confused than clairvoyant to me. That is to say they don't see all they claim to and rarely do they ever make any decent sense of what they affirm a belief in, since much of what they profess to believe in is nonsense anyway.

They often make simple logic mistakes, but this is forgivable, logic and critical thinking are skills which need to be honed. They state that they are using reason and then say something totally unreasonable,  such as talking about Croccaducks and how Hurricane Katrina and the disastrous earthquake which rocked Haiti was the consequence of sinfulness. They defend their positions as rational and then ask you to take at face value irrational assumptions and unfounded claims. They often cite their championed holy book (whatever version it might happen to be) as the definitive authority on matters, even as they show their own credulity by doing so.

And all this is called Christian apologetics. 

So, I appreciate your comments about my crystal clear clarity. I'm trying to avoid the pitfalls of what I know all too well to be an inadequate defense when it comes to arguing for what I believe in.

Assuredly, the best way to argue your position, I find, is to be well informed. I don't expect anything less of anybody regardless of their educational background. We all have the ability to find the nearest library and check out a good book. I hold everyone to the same stringent standards I hold myself to. 

Knowledge is the atheist's greatest weapon, and it is the Christian's greatest foil, because anytime an atheist overwhelms a believer with information this puts upon the believer a great hindrance, for now they are stuck with the responsibility of checking up on that girth of information for validity and confirmation.  If they refuse they are ducking the obligation and this detracts from their argument instead of bolstering it.  It's not surprising many choose the latter. It's easier to assume you're right and pretend what you know is credible than having to do the work to prove something correct and thereby gain credibility. Yet this stratagem will never be sufficient to make your claims truth, because the truth is, if it doesn't hold up to scrutiny then it's probably not very reliable.

Most of us find that experience plays a big role in helping us formulate our views and opinions, but it's the uniformed opinion which leads to uniformed views. No matter how convincing the experience may be, it still has to meet the prerequisites of dependability. So, in actuality, I do not pity those who cling to a dwindling faith for the consoling sort of comfort they find in it, but I do pity them because this is the only sort of faith they'll ever allow themselves to have. For those who chime in with the catch phrase 'faith is all you'll ever need', just know that for some people it's not.

There is more. All you have to do is dare to know. 

Meanwhile the atheist is re-arming herself with further details, facts, and increasing her knowledge until she is brimming with information. Why does this tactic work? Because it simultaneously builds the strongest defense for atheism and also causes the most devastating volley against the theist claims. 

Probably this is why so many Christians resort to making the defensive claim that atheists are being snobbish, elitist, sophists as a way to dodge the intellectual attack. But in the end, all that fancy footwork doesn't ensure victory for the theist, it merely postpones the inevitable--the increasing difficulty of validating their claims the more nebulous and out of touch with reality they become. 

When the religious held convictions, views, and ideas no longer fit within the frame or scope or human experience, then they have ceased to be pertinent, because they have ceased to be real to us. This is when religion recedes, slowly growing antiquated, only to turn into mythology, as most religions seem to do given enough time. Faith is reserved for other things, such as science, reason, and humanism; just to name a few selected from an unlimited string of philosophies to gain from.

I find a proper education often leads to a keener understanding--or to put it another way, an education is learning what you didn't even know you didn't know. Once properly informed, you might find out that you are wrong about your assumptions, and you can re-educate yourself on what you thought you knew. It boils down to what is quantifiable, not what is merely plausible, and certainly not what is supposedly possible. Being erudite will yield a greater chance of actually being correct, and likewise, being knowledgeable will give one the greatest chance of recognizing the truth whenever they should stumble upon it.

In my opinion, Atheism is currently winning the religious debate for the following reasons: 1) the atheist has the unique ability to admit that they don't know what they are talking about, or that they are wrong, or that they have erred, and 2) they have the distinct privilege of going back and correcting their mistakes. 

How many religious people have admitted they were wrong and dropped certain religious claims altogether? Very rarely I should think, since one finds it increasingly difficult to override their dogmatic convictions so easily. That's why there are still people such as Young Earth Creationists, Calvinists, Evolution deniers, not to mention Ray Comfort and Pat Robertson. I guess the adage is true: ignorance is bliss.

The challenge of examining the evidence and looking at all the information is too great for some people, so denial becomes their greatest ally. The religious hardly ever admit error, because if they did, their beliefs would be more than just challenged, they'd be largely discredited. 

Changing one's mind about one's convictions without losing one's faith is a rarity, but I suppose it happens in ecumenical settings often prompting larger overall changes in orthodox opinion when that opinion has ceased to be sensible, such as the Vatican relinquishing the doctrine of Limbo.  It will only be a matter of time before the erroneous doctrine of transubstantiation follows suit and becomes extinct as well. Perhaps after that the idea of virgin births. What will be next? It stems to reason that you can only hold conflicting or incongruous beliefs so long as you are able to reconcile them away. When that luxury ceases to be possible, skepticism wins out.

More importantly though, is that all this assures that Atheism has the upper hand. Thomas had it right, doubting is the only way to test the sincerity of the claim. If you say you are Jesus reborn, then I too want the proof. Balderdash is no supplement for the authentic truth, especially when the truth is readily available! 

Only the foolish would take up blind faith and follow a person without first authenticating the claim or without so much as a care in the world. I guess this means Obi-wan was right to inquire, "Who is more foolish, the fool or the fool who follows him?"

Free thinking, critical inquiry, diligent scrutiny, along with a healthy dose of skepticism are the atheists tools. But more importantly still, intellectual honesty is our greatest asset. It makes our atheistic position that much more genuine--therefore all the more believable.

And every time a true believer and a Christian brushes aside my skepticism as rebellion, I simply retort, "I guess the devil is in the details."


Advocatus Atheist

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Dating the Gospels: Looking at the Historical Framework

            From what I gather, all credible sources cite Paul’s Epistles as the oldest NT writings. Of the Gospels however, Synoptic Gospels plus the 4th Gospel, they begin with the book of Mark, the earliest of all the Gospels. General consensus among scholars is that it was written circa 60-70 A.D. (C.E.). Both Bart D. Ehrman's seminary text book entitled The New Testament and Biblical scholar Raymond E. Brown’s International version of An Introduction to the New Testament are great resources for answering questions on dating the Synoptic Gospels, Paul's Epistles, and more. I’ll also be intermingling and weaving in some Wikipedia sources which are very heavily referenced in detail, and should help you get started investigating the crux of the matter in full.

            Browsing through the Synoptic Gospels, the first three gospels of the New Testament, we discover that the canonical order of these Gospels follows the tradition that the book of Matthew came first. This was originally proposed by the fifth century bishop Augustine of Hippo. He did so to try and explain the consistent relationships between the Synoptic Gospels by proposing that Matthew was written prior to Mark which in turn used Matthew as a source. Finally Luke was presumed to have been written using Matthew and Mark as its sources. John, often called the Fourth Gospel, seems to stand apart from the others for various textual reasons which we'll discuss later on.

            The precise nature of the relationships between the gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke is known as the Synoptic Problem. The recognition of the question, and attempts to resolve it, date to antiquity. For example, Augustine of Hippo tried to explain the relationships between the synoptic gospels by proposing, as mentioned earlier, that perhaps Matthew was written first. This would explain the similarities then in Mark using Matthew as a source. Finally, following Augustine of Hippo's suggestion that Luke was written using Matthew and Mark as sources we get a theoretical chronology for the order of the Gospel texts. Although, it's worth noting that this specific solution has fallen out of favor among modern scholars. When Augustine wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls and Nag Hammadi library were not yet recovered and the evidence for the Lost Gospel of Q (e.g. the Q document) was not yet readily available.

The above mentioned archeological discoveries have forced modern scholars to reject Augustine of Hippo's theory knowing that the Gospel of Mark, not Matthew, was the earliest written canonical Gospel. However, the exclusive relationship between the three texts, especially the near duplication of wording and structure in some parts of Matthew and Luke, still needed to be explained.  

            There are differing opinions as to how late Mark could have been written. Most scholars agree with the Two-source hypothesis that proposes that Mark was one of the sources for the other Synoptic Gospels, Matthew and Luke; according to this viewpoint the latest possible date for Mark depends on the dating of Matthew and Luke. A wide range of recent critical scholars believe that Mark was written at the earliest after the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Second Temple in 70.[22][23][24][25][26][27][28]

            Two papyrologists, Fr. Josep O'Callaghan and Carsten Peter Thiede, have proposed that lettering on a postage-stamp-sized papyrus fragment found in a cave at Qumran, 7Q5, represents a fragment of Mark (Mark 6:52–53); thus they assert that the present gospel was written and distributed prior to 68. Computer analysis has shown that, assuming their disputed reading of the letters to be correct, and allowing for the replacement of one letter and the omission of a three word phrase "to the land", only Mark matches these twenty letters and five lines among all known Greek manuscripts.[8] The majority of papyrologists question this identification of the fragmentary text,[29] for several reasons. Some assume that all early papyrus Gospel manuscripts were copied as codices.[8], and that a copy in a scroll format would not have been made for the Qumran librarians. While no other known Greek work matches 7Q5's wording, neither does Mark unless the phrase "to land", found in all other extant manuscripts of Mark, is omitted from 6:52–53.

            John A. T. Robinson in 'Redating the New Testament' proposes an even earlier date. He accepts Marcan Priority and dates Luke/Acts no later than 62. Therefore, if Mark was written before Luke/Acts, Robinson dates Mark to the mid-fifties.[30] Whereas the dating of Mark near AD 70 is based on apparent references to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, combined with the assumption that the first readers would not have understood these references if the gospel had been written prior to the events described.

            The relationships between the three synoptic gospels go beyond mere similarity in viewpoint. The gospels often recount the same stories, usually in the same order, sometimes using the same words. Subsequently, following Mark are the Gospel books of Matthew and Luke.

            The date of Matthew is still a matter of debate among Biblical scholars. Many believe it was composed between the years 70 and 100.[62][63] The writings of Ignatius show "a strong case ... for [his] knowledge of four Pauline epistles and the Gospel of Matthew"[64], which gives a terminus ad quem of c. 110. The author of the Didache (c 100) probably knew it as well.[4] Some scholars see the prophecies of the destruction of Jerusalem (e.g. in Matthew 22:7) as suggesting a date of authorship after the siege and destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD:[65] However, John A. T. Robinson argues that the lack of a passage indicating the fulfilment of the prophecy suggest a date before that[66]. Matthew does not mention the death of James in 62 AD. It also lacks any narrative on the persecutions of the early Christians by Nero.

            Scholars note that the similarities between Mark, Matthew, and Luke are too great to be accounted for by mere coincidence.[4] Because multiple eyewitnesses reporting the same events never relate a story using identical words, scholars and theologians have long assumed that there was some relationship between the three synoptic gospels that was based upon common literary sources.

Extensive copying between all three texts, which were written separately around 70 CE, turns out to be the result of another document referred to by scholars as Q. Stemming from the German word Quelle, which means “source” in German, historians have postulated that there is a lost textual source for the Gospel of Matthew and Gospel of Luke. This theoretical text is presumed to be a collection of Jesus’ sayings and teachings and was further given credibility with a huge find in Egypt in 1945 near the town of Nag Hammâdi. As the story goes, a local peasant named Mohammed Ali Samman discovered a collection of early Christian Gnostic texts, having stumbled upon several buried jars, all of them sealed. Upon opening the jars the man discovered twelve leather-bound papyrus codices giving birth to The Nag Hammadi library (popularly known as The Gnostic Gospels). Picknett and Prince explain better the importance of the Gnostic texts when they inform:

There are also a large number of fragments of lost works, sometimes referring to sayings or deeds of Jesus that are not in the New Testament, but of roughly the same age. In fact one of the fragments—actually four small scraps of papyrus—in the British Museum and known by the riveting title of ‘Egerton Papyrus 2’ is possibly the oldest surviving document about Jesus in existence.

What is so marvelous about this find is that many of the Gnostic Gospels were dated to roughly the same time as the Synoptic Gospels, the oldest being the Ryland’s fragment of John’s Gospel (circa 125-150 C.E.). The Egerton fragments, a Gnostic text, dated between 90-150 C.E., the same (perhaps older) than the Ryland’s fragment, and shared many of the same verses and sayings of Jesus Christ of the Synoptic Gospels (see: Source criticism and Form criticism), thus proving that a yet undiscovered third source text must exist—this being the lost Gospel of Q. (See: the Nag Hammadi Library)

Another point worth bringing up is that the majority of the Gnostic Gospels show a much more human portrayal of Jesus Christ. In fact, the Gnostic texts such as the Gospel of Mary (attributed to Mary Magdalene) we find no evidence of any miraculous resurrection, which coincides with the original Gospel Mark and its strange absence of a post resurrection Christ. This may suggest that the resurrection story was added later into the canonical scriptures as some scholars suggest.

            In his excellent book Jesus and Yahweh: The Names Divine, the literary critic Harold Bloom brings up the most apparent, and regrettably the most ignored, of Biblical changes which should cause us to immediately doubt the divinity of the text as a whole. Bloom’s acute observations lead the scholar to write, “The New Testament frequently is a strong misreading of the Hebrew Bible, and certainly it has persuaded multitudes,” and goes on to inform, “The New Testament accomplishes its appropriation by means of its drastic reordering of the Tanakh.” On the following page Bloom gives a side-by-side list of the book changes of the Old Testament in comparison to the original order of the Jewish Tanakh—i.e. the original Jewish holy book before passionate Christians hijacked and newly reassembled it into what we deem the “Old Testament.”

            So regardless of when the Gospels were written, this is important for anyone who is willing to take the Gospel stories for all they're worth, since it appears that much of their composition relies on redaction, or retelling of OT stories re-written for evangelical purposes past the expiration date of Jesus. It basically shows that there is more going on between the lines than most Christians realize.

What may be more shocking to believers is that modern Christianity does not stem from Jesus Christ at all, but rather, comes from that re-envisioned theology of St. Paul. Not forgetting to mention that almost an entire third of the New Testament is Pauline, a fact we can’t afford to overlook, the discerning Harold Bloom mentions, “Between his priority, his centrality in the text, and his reinvention of much of Christianity, Paul is its crucial founder. Yeshua of Nazareth, who died still trusting in the Covenant with Yahweh, cannot be regarded as the inaugurator of a new faith.”

More than this, we cannot neglect the augmentation of Paul’s theology by early church leaders. In the Jesus Dynasty Tabor reminds us, “Although our New Testament gospels contain historical material, the theological editing is a factor that the discerning reader must constantly keep in mind.”  

Even the Gospels do not fully agree with one another all of the time, as Bart D. Ehrman puts it, “The biblical authors did not agree on everything they discussed; sometimes they had deeply rooted and significant disagreements.”

 Ultimately, this can be troubling for anyone who believes that the Bible is the literal word of God. Robert M. Price, part of the Jesus Seminar, and author of The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man, has equivocated:

The controlling presupposition seems to be, “If the traditional view cannot be absolutely debunked beyond the shadow of a doubt, if it still might possibly be true, then we are within our rights to continue to believe it.” But scholarly judgments can never properly be a matter of “the will to believe.” Rather, the historian’s maxim must always be Kant’s: “Dare to know.”

And this is where I must leave off. Because either you will be contented with what evidence you are given, or you will not, but in the end I hope you follow Kant’s dictum to dare to know. It’s what I have tried to do and will continue to aspire to. As one who is deeply interested, or more precisely: enthralled, by this period of human history I can’t help but find I love to learn about all the theories, the good ones and the bad. Whatever evidence and theories stand up to scrutiny, and are quantifiable, are the ones which are the most stable, and therefore likely justifiable. Consequently, these become the ones I’ll likely settle upon as the best chance of being accurate if not akin to the truth (although as a non-believer and skeptic there is always the possibility to change my mind when better evidence is forthcoming).

I hope this helped answer any questions about when the Gospel books were supposedly written. I wish you good luck and happy researching!


Tristan D. Vick

Saturday, January 16, 2010

An Atheist's Personal Testimony

(Above: My wife Sayaka)

“Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? Or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?”
2 Corinthians 6:14-15, King James Version

Okay, so here is the sort of Christian I was, because it was who I was, it is how I thought:

I believed it when the Bible said not to marry anyone outside of the faith. I believed it would be a sin to do so. I believe it would ruin my relationship with Christ.

Then I met Sayaka.

My whole life I had been raised in a Church which taught that if I married a non-Christian, such as a Buddhist, I'd go to hell. And in my piety I believed it.

But then I met Sayaka, and suddenly, an eternity in hell seemed like a risk worth taking.

Like many fundamentalist Christians, I was raised on entirely conservative values, where my Pastor denounced premarital sex and called it lust and a temptation of the flesh, living together before marriage was shunned, and to even talk about one’s sexual identity was taboo. Abortion was seen as evil and homosexuality was a grotesque perversion of human morality. And I believed it all.

But then I met Sayaka, and she showed me there is more to people than unfounded stereotypes. She opened my eyes, and taught me compassion and empathy for others, no matter their race, gender, sexual orientation, or background.

And nothing my faith held seemed to make sense anymore. It was telling me I couldn't love the woman of my dreams because she was an outside force tempting me away from my faith. My form of Christianity taught that I couldn't be with her, that if I chose to love this woman... that if I chose love… God would punish me for it.

My fundamental, quite literal, convictions weren't compatible with a more multicultural and open-minded view of interracial relationships. I believed God was all loving, but only of his chosen flock. If she wasn’t a true Christian, then I’d be jeopardizing my very salvation by allowing myself to be led astray.

So I had to seriously start questioning my faith, and what it taught, because I found someone who I loved and who loved me with all her being back. And that’s not something I wanted to give up. Who would?

I didn't want to be a lonely bigot preaching about the power of God’s love but know nothing about love. Who is going to believe the message of Jesus Christ’s message of love for us all when the same people turn around to hypocritically denounce homosexual’s right to marry, tell people who they can and can’t have sex with, and attempt to restrict the rights of women to govern their own bodies? That’s not a religion of love, it’s a faith based ideology predicated on inequality and hate.

When it came to devotion to my faith, or devotion to my future wife, I chose my wife over the religious ideology. Granted, it wasn't the only thing... just the tipping point and the catalyst. It's what started to make me question everything. EVERYTHING. It gave me the ability to be skeptical and challenged me to seriously rethink things.

Indeed, I had to open my eyes and reread the Bible as a book again, not as the literal truth on everything. Sayaka was the catalyst that caused me to go back and re-evaluate things, everything from who I was as a person, to what I believed, to who I wanted to become.

So learning to love someone fully, regardless of who they were, what race, or cultural background was a challenge for me coming from my very radical, fundamentalist, Christian views. Even as I struggled with the belief that I would go to hell for loving, I kept thinking, how is this not sick and twisted? Jesus was supposed to be all loving, but when I went back to the Bible to confirm it, instead of support I found more outmoded, sexist, xenophobic teachings. And then I had to make a choice, either keep believing in it, because it's all I knew—It's what I was taught—or go back to square one and re-educate myself, become something new, and I’m not ashamed that I did, and that I did it all for a girl.

Sayaka changed my world in more ways than one. In fact,;) she is my world. She is everything to me. And I'm a hopeless romantic... but better off for it, me thinks.

In the long run, I want to help others, like homosexuals, religiously oppressed women, and unsuspecting children, who feel the same anti-humanitarian fear and hate coming from religion. I want to help liberate them from the theocratic rule which has stifled their spirits and caused them to doubt themselves. I want to show them how to shed the shackles of archaic bronzed age superstitions which still actively influence us today, and move beyond such backwards ideas. So I wanted to advocate reason and equip them with the most powerful tool they’d ever need. I want to share the enlightenment I have undergone, because it was so liberating, but not only this, it also saved me and turned my life around.

Psychologist Darrel W. Ray in The God Virus has a great chapter on how religion perverts the normal psychology of sex, distorts it into something wicked, and depicts how it tries to interrupt your life and strives to retard an otherwise healthy sex life by seeking to control one's sexuality. I found that I experienced many of the same negative influences at the hands of faith and it made me utterly miserable. A good book for anyone who wants to see the psychological scary side to religious indoctrination and belief might be interested in this book.

Are Atheists too Stubborn to Listen to Reason?

Am I a hardened atheist? Am I too inflexible? Do I always think I'm right? My Christian friend informed me:

You are challenging but just because you don't listen.

Which caused me to pause. Because I think of myself as a person who listens quite well. Many friends who I have consoled and comforted have informed me that I was the best listener they ever confided in. I still get phone calls from my high school sweetheart whenever she needs to vent, and she always tells me that I'm so easy to talk to. But then again, friends aren't exactly unbiased when it comes to doling out compliments. Maybe there is a character flaw I haven't noticed before? Or maybe, it appears that I don't listen because, in all honesty, there are just some things worth listening to more than others.

When it comes to listening to people's "truths" I have to apply caution. Am I going to listen to any old uninformed, twice-baked, nonsensical opinion or personal philosophy which has no tested or tried value? In short, no. I try to be as discerning as possible. I just don't have time for poorly constructed thoughts, and who would waste their time listening to hours of moon hoax landing propaganda, or holocaust denial, creationist conjecture. Should we seriously waste time by patiently hearing out those with no real point to make, such as religious frauds trying to sell us their thoughts on how to make us better people if we just buy (into) The Secret or some equivalent bosh, bull, or bunk? I don't think so.

I am a selective listener. I also happen to be stubborn in what I selectively listen to. I've learned how to identify the baloney and then scrutinize it, critically take it apart, and determine whether or not it has any merit to speak of or if its just more rigmarole. So no, I don't think I'm a bad listener, I just don't listen to opinions that aren't supported with evidence or based on reason, or in themselves not very reasonable. Personally, I try to be more skeptical than credulous.

But overall, I like to think of myself as a reasonable listener. And by this, the corollary follows as well, I will stop listening when the content becomes too unreasonable. It's that simple.

So maybe that does make me challenging, since if you're a Christian who is going to try and preach the gospel to me and save my immortal soul, within the first three sentences that come out of your mouth I will have been able to critique and judge whether or not you know anything about anything, or if you're simply another dime store variety propagandist working for the man in the sky. And I don't have time to listen to creationist conjecture or poorly rehearsed apologetics. There's more important things to be listening to and filling my mind with, in my opinion. Take it for what it's worth.

In the end, that may not be the open minded sit down and let someone spill their guts sort of therapeutic listening people crave when they want to be heard, but if people would only think about what it is they were saying more carefully first, I wouldn't have to defend my choice not to listen to their often times mind numbing stupidity. Let me put it this way, I'll listen to something worth listening to, so you better make it good, and that's the challenge.

Moreover, whenever I am being challenging, what I hope to get out of it, is to challenge other people to think for themselves. I hope they will see by what I am trying to do here is show them how they can base their opinions off dependable and reliable evidence, not some devotional creed or conviction which, more often than not, turns out to be unfounded and uninformed.

I am about weeding through the balderdash and picking up the gems of truth along the way. But first we must learn how to weed out the unwanted stuff that litters our philosophical landscape. And that's what I try to do here. Show how my Atheist views are sustainable, and sometimes this means doing a little weeding, so if I start hacking away at people's cherished religious beliefs, there is a rhyme and reason, and it's political. Not personal.

Advocatus Atheist

Advocatus Atheist