NFL Running Back Arian Foster Joins Openly Secular

Hi gang! Sorry I’ve been so silent lately. It’s really just been a combination of being really busy with work, playing Destiny in my spare time, and not having a whole lot to say lately. But the other day, I ran across a really great article about Arian Foster joining Openly Secular, which is trying to make “non-religious” not such a dirty label. I thought it was a great read, and I think all of you would find it interesting. Check it out here.

I’ll try to have something more substantial soon. :)

“Times of Ignorance”

There’s a passage in the Bible that has long stood out to me. When I was a Christian, I found it comforting; now, I just find it perplexing. In Acts 17 (beginning in verse 16), Paul is visiting Athens. Since it was a hub of philosophy and culture, it had temples and altars to a multitude of different gods, including an altar “to the unknown god.” Paul uses this opportunity to preach to them about the Jewish god — the god that (according to Paul) created everything. Then, in verses 30-31, Paul says this:

The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.

When Paul talks about “the times of ignorance,” he’s obviously talking about all the time before that moment — a time when God “allowed” people to serve “false” gods. But what does he mean when he says that God overlooked that time? I’d be curious to know how other denominations view this passage. When I was a Christian, my view of it tied in with the first three chapters of Romans. Those chapters lay out a case for why both Jews and Gentiles needed Christ. Romans 2:12-16 says this:

For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

The Old Law was given to the Jews. While the OT didn’t teach the concepts of Heaven and Hell, many Christians believe that keeping the Law is what let Jews go to Heaven, before Christ came. But what provision was there for Gentiles? Romans 2 seems to say that even though Gentiles didn’t have the law, those who lived righteously anyway were a “law to themselves,” which could “excuse them” on that day of judgement. This is still vague… did it mean that the Gentiles had to somehow anticipate the actual Mosaic laws? Or is this just talking about basic morality? I tend to think it’s the latter, since the former would be virtually impossible.

So let’s go back to Acts 17:30. When Paul says that God overlooked these “times of ignorance,” I took that to mean that he judged Gentiles merely on their morality. It seems like this would be a more forgiving scale, since it wouldn’t include any ritualistic precepts that only apply to specific doctrines. In other words, it seems to fit pretty well with Romans 2.

When I was a Christian, this gave me great comfort. After all, it meant that before the time of Christ, salvation was still awarded to many people, even if they weren’t Jewish. The alternative, that all Gentiles were automatically consigned to Hell, is just too horrible to contemplate.

But this also brings up some uncomfortable questions. First of all, Acts 17:30 goes on to say “but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.” This would indicate that Gentiles could no longer simply be judged on a general moral law. Instead, they would be required to become Christians. But how much sense does that make? If Paul really made this speech in Athens, most sources I’ve seen estimate it to have taken place around 50 CE. This is before any books of the New Testament had been written, which means Christianity was solely spreading by word of mouth. How could all Gentiles have been expected to respond to the gospel at this point in time? Even decades later, once some of the writings were circulating, there were also “non-canonical” writings in the mix. How could people have known which were accurate? For centuries, Christians simply didn’t have access to all the canonical books of the Bible, and even if they had, the majority couldn’t have read them. So they would have relied on the testimony of clergy. When disagreements arose surrounding doctrine, how could they have known what to believe? This doesn’t even deal with the very big problem that Christianity, for most of its history, barely spread outside of Europe, the Middle East, and northern Africa. Most of the world knew nothing of it.

If God no longer excused ignorance after Paul’s speech, then millions upon millions of people were consigned to Hell through no fault of their own. If God did still excuse people’s ignorance, then Paul’s speech doesn’t make a lot of sense here.

But there’s another problem as well. If God was able to save people simply based on their morality, then why did he ever do anything different? Let’s say God still overlooked ignorance even after Paul’s speech. If you had been a Gentile living at that time, you would have had a greater chance at salvation if you never heard the gospel. Because if you heard it, but rejected it, you would be accountable to it. If you never heard it, then simply living a moral life would be enough for salvation. This means that those who preached the gospel were actually doing a disservice. Ignorance truly would have been bliss. Why would God have implemented such a flawed and unfair plan?

When I was a Christian, I took it for granted that Christianity was true, so I when I read this passage, I really just focused on the comfort I got from thinking that Gentiles still had an avenue for salvation before Christ came. But I now see this as another red flag about the truth of Christianity. So I’m curious as to how other groups view this. Are there ways of looking at it that aren’t so problematic? Or is this a minor enough passage that most of you never paid much attention to it?

Sins of the Father: Is part of Josh Duggar’s sexual deviancy a result of his upbringing?

By this time, practically everyone has heard about the child molestation scandal surrounding Josh Duggar of 19 Kids & Counting fame. For those of you not as familiar with the story, the bare bones are these: Josh Duggar, who is now 27 years old, married, and the father 3 kids, molested 5 young girls (most of whom were his sisters) when he was 14 and 15. His parents found out and dealt with the matter privately. Actually, the way they handled it makes for quite a story in itself, and I recommend reading up on it. If it were fiction, it would be hard to believe.

Today, I read another article that showed where Josh’s dad, Jim Bob Duggar (yes, that’s his real name), said back in 2002 that incest and rape should be capital offenses. The irony’s pretty thick.

It goes without saying that this is a tragic story, especially for the young girls that were involved. And if you follow social media at all, you’ve probably seen some of the examples of schadenfreude that we sometimes feel toward people like Josh Duggar when they’re brought low.

At the same time, part of me feels a little sorry for this guy, because I can’t help but wonder if his upbringing didn’t have something to do with what happened. We’re not just talking about any old Christian household here. While I’m not a Christian and write against Christianity regularly, there are a number of Christian families who are able to convey a pretty healthy view of sex to their kids. The Duggar family is something else entirely. They adhere to a form of ultra-conservatism that is hard for most of us to identify with.

There’s a really great article about Duggar at that’s definitely worth reading. In it, the author uses a chart that she got from an article by Libby Anne, who blogs at Patheos. I think this chart is brilliant and explains so much:

Josh Duggar, at ages 14 and 15, grew up in a home where any kind of sexual expression that wasn’t within the bounds of marriage was considered sin. As the chart shows, consent was not a major part of what constituted “allowable” sex. TV was restricted, their internet service was filtered, and there was no physical contact or kissing with the people these kids dated (source). I imagine that they also viewed masturbation as sinful. While someone like Victoria (NeuroNotes) has likely done much more research on this kind of thing than I have, I can easily see where this kind of sexual repression could lead a kid like Josh Duggar to make these kinds of mistakes. When things like rape and murder share the same label (“sin”) as things like masturbation and lust, then for some people, the lines become blurry. If a person is already in trouble with God for one sin, what real difference does it make if they go ahead and engage in another? He would have known that certain magazines, TV channels, and websites were all reliable sources of pornography but would have had no way to access any of them. I can see where that kind of frustration and repression could turn into a dangerous obsession.

I’m certainly not defending him or what he did. And plenty of people have grown up in households that had the same restrictive view of sex without resorting to molestation. But I still wonder if things might have played out differently had he been raised with a healthier view of sexuality.

Skeptical Bible Study: Tower of Babel

I was listening to a recent speech that Matt Dillahunty gave in Australia (listen here if you’re interested), and in part of it he brought up the story of the Tower of Babel, found in Genesis 11. It’s a story I’ve thought about several times since leaving Christianity. I don’t recall everything Matt said about it, though I know I’ll be making some of the same points he did. I haven’t been a Christian for about 5 years now, and it’s sometimes hard to imagine that I ever believed stories like this one, though I definitely did. And a number of other conservative Christians do as well.

A few days ago, I asked my wife if she remembered what God was angry about in this story, and she gave the same reason that I thought: God was angry because people were being prideful. In case you’ve forgotten, the crux of the story is that several generations after the flood, mankind was growing numerous, and they all had one common language. They decided to build a tower that would reach Heaven (see how prideful?), so God put a stop to it by confusing their language. This caused the various groups to split up, each person going along with whomever could understand him or her.

However, after looking at the details a bit more, it turns out that my recollection was a bit off. First, the people weren’t actually being prideful at all. Instead of trying to build a tower to Heaven — God’s abode — they were just trying to build a tall one to make it easier to stay in one geographic area:

Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. 2 And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. 3 And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”
— Genesis 11:1-4

The phrase “in the heavens” is just talking about the sky, not the realm of God. For just a moment though, let’s pretend that they really had been trying to reach God with their tower. Why would that be such a bad thing? Doesn’t the Bible repeatedly tell us to seek after God? Furthermore, would they have succeeded? On September 12, 2013, Voyager 1 actually left our solar system. In all those miles, it didn’t bump into Heaven. No earth-based tower would ever run the risk of reaching God’s home. So not only were the people not attempting that, even if they had been it wouldn’t have succeeded, and it actually would have been flattering toward God.

So if God wasn’t angry at them for being prideful, why did he confuse their language and force them apart? The next few verses give us the answer:

And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. 6 And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” 8 So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 9 Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth.
— Genesis 11:5-9

Essentially, God was just being a jerk. He was like a kid stirring up an anthill. I mean, God forbid (literally) that people advance technologically, right? Wouldn’t want them discovering things like the germ theory of disease, after all. And why prevent wars by keeping people within the same culture? Much better, I guess, to create different cultures so mistrust and bigotry can form. Furthermore, if this was such a problem at the time, why hasn’t he stopped us again? We’ve figured out ways to overcome language and culture barriers now. We’ve done so much more than just “build a tall tower.” God’s motivation in this story simply makes no sense at all.

However, if you step back for a moment and stop trying to view this as literal history with an actual god, things become clearer. Imagine living thousands of years ago and trying to make sense of the world around you. You think the world is flat and that the sun revolves around it. You don’t understand the cause of thunder storms, earthquakes, or volcanoes. You can’t imagine how animals and humans got here without some kind of creator. And if there’s a creator, why didn’t he make life easier? Why does he allow disease and starvation? There are so many difficult questions that just have no answer. And so people began to formulate answers as best they could. It’s easy to see that one of those questions may have been “why didn’t God (the gods) give us all the same language?” And so they came up with an answer.

Looking at it from that perspective, it’s much easier to understand how a story like this came to be. These people were dealing with the world as they saw it — and to them, the only reason they could think of for God not wanting everyone to have the same language, is that they would accomplish too much. They had no idea that humanity would one day find a way around that problem, rendering their explanation invalid.

Speaking as someone who grew up believing that stories like this were actual history, I know how easy it is to just go along under that assumption without question, especially if those around us believe as we do. It’s not stupidity; it’s either isolation and ignorance, or it’s stubbornness. We can help the isolated and ignorant by just being available to discuss these things when they come up. And with the Bible, there are plenty of examples to be found.

My Recent Field Trip

Last night, my friend Matt and I had an opportunity to go to one of the church services that I talked about in my last post. As I mentioned there, this is a series of lessons surrounding the topic “Can We Believe the Bible?” by an evangelist / college professor / apologist that I corresponded with several years ago, named Doy Moyer. I was excited about going, but also nervous. It had been almost 5 years since I was last inside a conservative Church of Christ, and I knew I would probably see a couple of people that I knew. It was really nice having Matt along for the adventure.

Once we came in and got seated (last row, stage left, which I guess placed us firmly in the “goats” section), I noticed my in-laws sitting in the center section as well as the preacher from their congregation — the same one who was there when I attended. Let me state upfront that I still care deeply for all three of them. My wife’s parents are genuinely great people, and I couldn’t have gotten better in-laws. Granted, things aren’t as good now as they once were, but they’re just as hurt by all that as we are. And the preacher is a great guy as well. We were pretty close, once upon a time.

Anyway, while we waited for the service to begin, the PowerPoint was showing the topics that they plan to cover each night:

  • 3/30/15 — How Is Bible History to Be Perceived?
  • 4/6/15 — Can We Trust the Gospels?
  • 4/13/15 — Have the Gospels Been Hopelessly Corrupted?
  • 4/20/15 — Can We Use the Bible to Prove the Bible?
  • 4/27/15 — What About God and the Slaughter of the Innocents?
  • 5/4/15 — How Can the Bible Really Be Understood?

Those are interesting topics. And though there’s no way I’ll be able to make each one of them in person, I plan to listen to them all. But last night was the second topic, “Can We Trust the Gospels?” It more or less went the way I expected it would.

Moyer started by quoting Simon Greenleaf, who once said something to the effect that every witness should be considered credible until proven otherwise. He then spent some time talking about presuppositions — and this is apparently something he talked about at length during the first session as well. He said that atheists (I don’t remember if he implied “all” or “most”) start with the presupposition that miracles are impossible, so of course they don’t accept the Bible. He also said that when examining the Bible we should avoid modern biases. In other words, he implied that some parts of the Bible might look problematic, but that’s only from our modern mindset. He pointed out that the authors of the gospels displayed historical intent and referenced Luke 1:1 as evidence for that. He also mentioned that CS Lewis was convinced that the accounts did not bear the markers of legend. Moyer stated that the authors seemed to know what they were talking about. And he said that their bias was not a reason to discount their testimony, since we all have bias of some kind or another.

All in all, I didn’t disagree with much of his introduction. I wish he had pointed out that presuppositions can run both ways, but I can’t say I was surprised by that omission. Of course, I disagreed with his assertion that the main reason people reject the gospels is because they’ve eliminated the possibility of miracles. But the rest of his points were decent, in my opinion, though I could tell he was going to take some of them in directions I wouldn’t agree with.

He then got into the guts of his presentation, laying out several arguments that supported his belief that the gospels can be trusted. Much of his information came from Lord or Legend?, by Gregory Boyd and Paul Rhodes Eddy, and Can We Trust the Gospels?, by Mark D Roberts. I’ve read the latter, but not the former. The rest of Moyer’s presentation went as follows:

Were the authors in a position to know?

According to Moyer, some of the gospels make eyewitness claims. This was one of the first statements that really stood out to me. Is that true? I don’t really think it is, but I haven’t looked into it for a while and haven’t had a chance to since last night. I’d be interested in anything you readers might have to say about this claim.

Moyer also asked, if the gospels were fabricated, then why were the names Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John chosen for them? He pointed out that pseudonymous works typically used names that were well known and carried weight: like the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Peter, etc. Why would anyone have used Mark and Luke, since neither of them were eyewitnesses or knew Jesus? In fact, Moyer argued, the anonymity of the gospels suggests legitimacy, since they didn’t feel the need to claim the names of well-known disciples.

But I didn’t find this point particularly compelling. First of all, his point would only hold true for Mark and Luke, since Matthew and John were both very well known disciples. Furthermore, he made it sound as though we didn’t really know why the names Mark and Luke were assigned to these, suggesting that the Christians who began using those names must have known something. But we do know why those gospels are named as they are. Mark carries its name, because Papias said (about 100 years after Jesus’ death) that Mark was simply transcribing dictation from Peter. But the majority of modern scholars don’t accept that claim. And the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts are said to be written by Luke, because of some pronoun usage in Acts (Luke was a companion to Paul). But again, most modern scholars don’t accept that position, since parts of Acts are not in agreement with statements made in Paul’s epistles.

Moyer also made it sound like the authorship of the gospels was pretty settled, which is definitely not true, unless he’s only considering the opinions of ultra-conservative scholars.

In all, I didn’t think this point was particularly strong.

Are the copies reasonably close to the originals?

Here, Moyer went through the typical points about the number of manuscripts, how the textual attestation for the Bible is better than any other document from antiquity, etc. These points were pretty accurate, but a little misleading. For instance, while he mentioned that the Greek manuscripts date from about 50 years after the originals to about 1500 years, he didn’t point out that about 94% of those manuscripts date from the 9th century or later, or that the oldest manuscripts are just fragments. Nevertheless, the actual facts he referenced were pretty accurate.

He did point out that he’ll cover this in more detail in the next meeting. And for what it’s worth, I do think that the biblical texts are likely very close to the originals — at least in most cases. In some ways, this is actually a problem for Christianity, in my opinion, since it makes it very hard to claim that all discrepancies are the result of copying errors.

Are the reports consistent with eyewitness testimony?

Here, Moyer referenced things like Aramaisms (the recording of an Aramaic saying in another language, like “Lama, Lama sabacthani”) and references to places and people. Here, he referenced another book, Richard Baukham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses.

These points have never seemed especially strong to me. Maybe they should, I don’t know. But when a Spider-Man comic references Barack Obama, or Michael Bloomberg, I don’t suddenly think it must be true. And Aramaic was still being spoken at the time the gospels were written — would it be weird for Greek-speaking Christians who were educated enough to write these gospels to know some Aramaic as well?

The gospels contain self-damaging material

Moyer pointed out that if the gospels were being invented, surely the authors would want to portray the protagonists in the best possible light. Yet the gospels talk about the disciples being inadequate at times, they reference some people thinking Jesus was crazy or demon-possessed, and they show his disciples either betraying or abandoning him in the end. On top of that, the first people to find Jesus after his resurrection were women, who were considered unreliable back then.

But I don’t know many skeptics who think the gospels were pure inventions. Most believe (like most scholars) that the gospel story began as oral traditions that circulated among the believers. I think each gospel was written by someone who believed the bulk of what they were writing. And is there really no value in having stories that show the weaknesses of the disciples? It’s a great way to illustrate the supremacy of Jesus’ wisdom, as well as provide a compelling character arc for the disciples.

Do the gospels demonstrate reasonable consistency?

This was probably the one that bugged me the most. You have to remember that this was being presented in a Church of Christ, and every member of the CoC that I know believes in biblical inerrancy. Yet you can see from the wording of this heading that Moyer was playing it safe with phrases like “reasonable consistency.”

Moyer again stressed that the gospels weren’t written from a modern point of view. He also stressed that there was a difference between a “difficulty” and a “contradiction” and that the bar for proving an actual contradiction was extremely high. He referenced the synoptic problem, but complained that when the gospels differ people say they’re contradictory, yet when they agree people claim it’s evidence of collusion. This is a false dichotomy, of course. Otherwise, no one would ever be able to recognize plagiarism. The simple fact is that parts of the synoptics are direct copies of one another, while other portions of the gospels are diametrically opposed.

Moyer also showed his hand on the subject of inerrancy a bit by stressing that “for core historical events, it’s not necessary to prove flawlessness.”

Is there other literary evidence?

Moyer ended things by talking about the references to Christ and Christians in ancient sources like Tacitus, Seutonius, Josephus, Thallus, Pliny, Trajan, Hadrian, and the Talmud. He didn’t go into details, but did acknowledge that none of these sources corroborate things like the resurrection, etc. But he felt that they did demonstrate some basic things, like Jesus being a real individual, that he died by crucifixion under Pontius Pilate’s authority, and that Christians believed in the resurrection.

I didn’t have any real problems with his points here.


He didn’t say much in the conclusion, other than again stressing the problem with an a priori position that miracles are impossible.

He opened the floor up for questions, and he got a few. Nothing major. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to jump in. I didn’t want to be a jerk — that would have been the wrong move with my in-laws, and they were the only real reason I was there. At the same time, I figured that most people in the audience hadn’t realized how soft Moyer’s position on inerrancy is. And while I think that’s appropriate for a Christian who’s aware of all the information, I knew that he was essentially pulling one over on everyone there. Most of them view inerrancy as a major piece of evidence for Christianity, but that’s not how Moyer sees it.

So I raised my hand (I was pretty nervous, I have to admit), and when he called on me, I asked, “It seems like the authors you’re quoting from imply that inerrancy isn’t very supportable… am I understanding that correctly?”

To me, he seemed uncomfortable, and he didn’t really answer the question. He talked about first needing to determine what the gospels were trying to say. Then, based on their historical reliability, one could think more about things like inerrancy. As a Jesus follower, he would need to establish what Jesus thought about scripture and inerrancy and then follow that.

As you can see, he didn’t really say what he believed Jesus’ position on that was. He was trying his very best to be noncommittal on the subject of inerrancy. I’m not sure how noticeable that was to everyone else, but maybe they picked up on it.

After the service, Matt and I walked over and spoke to my in-laws and the preacher from my old congregation. Matt knows all of them as well. The interaction was friendly — a little awkward maybe, but still friendly. I also introduced myself to Moyer, but I don’t think he remembered me from our previous correspondence.

All in all, I’m glad I went. My in-laws are obviously attending all of these, and I want to know what they’re hearing. We should get an opportunity to discuss all of it at some point, and I’m looking forward to that. It was still weird being in a church, though. :/



So here’s what’s been going on lately. Most of you who read this blog already know that when my wife and I left Christianity, it wrecked most of our family relationships. My wife’s parents and siblings, as well as my own, felt that they could no longer interact with us socially after our deconversion. We were no longer invited to any family functions, and our communication with them all but disappeared. We would speak if it was about religious issues, or if there were logistic issues that needed to be worked out in letting them see our kids, etc.

Over the years, things have gotten a little better, especially with my wife’s parents. Things are by no means back to normal, but at least our infrequent interactions have become more civil and more comfortable. A few weeks ago, I even had a phone conversation with my father that lasted about half an hour and had no references to religion whatsoever. It was nice.

Nevertheless, the awkwardness is still there, just under the surface. And we’re still blacklisted from all the family functions.

Throughout this time, I’ve occasionally reached out to my side of the family with phone calls, letters, facebook messages, etc, in an effort to discuss the issues that divide us. I don’t get much response. I’ve always been puzzled by that, since I know they think I’m completely wrong. If their position is right, why aren’t they willing to discuss it?

In the last five years, I’ve also been sent books and articles and even been asked to speak to certain individuals, and I’ve complied with every request. Why not? How could more information hurt? But when I’ve suggested certain books to them, or written letters, they aren’t read. When I finally realized that my problems with Christianity weren’t going to be resolved, I wrote a 57-page paper to my family and close friends, explaining why I could no longer call myself a Christian. As far as I know, none of them ever read the whole thing. And sure, 57 pages is quite a commitment. But they say this is the most important subject in their lives…

This past week, the topic has started to come back around. A local church kicked off a new series on Monday entitled “Can We Believe the Bible?” It’s being led by an evangelist/professor/apologist that was kind enough to take time to correspond with me for several weeks in the summer of 2010. I’ve never met him in person, but a mutual friend connected us, since he was someone who was knowledgeable about the kinds of questions I was asking. Obviously, we didn’t wind up on the same page.

can we trust the bible?

My wife’s parents invited us to attend the series, but it happens to be at a time that I’m coaching my oldest daughter’s soccer team. So unless we get rained out at some point, there’s no way we can attend. However, we did tell them that if practice is ever cancelled, we’ll go. I also contacted the church and asked if the sermons (if that’s the right word?) will be recorded, and they said that they should be.

Monday night, the weather was fine, so we weren’t able to attend. And so far, the recording isn’t available on their website. However, they do have a recording of Sunday night’s service available, which is entitled “Question & Answer Night.” I just finished listening to it, and that’s where the bulk of my frustration comes from.

It’s essentially a prep for the series that kicked off Monday night. They’re discussing why such a study is important, as well as the kinds of things they plan to cover. What’s so frustrating to me is that I don’t understand the mindset of evangelists like this. I mean, they’ve studied enough to know what the major objections to fundamentalist Christianity are, yet they continue on as if there’s no problem. And when they do talk about atheists and skeptics, they misrepresent our position. I can’t tell if they honestly believe the version they’re peddling, or if they’re purposefully creating straw men.

A couple of times, they mentioned that one of the main reasons people reject the Bible comes down to a preconception that miracles are impossible. “And if you start from that position, then you’ll naturally reject the Bible.” But that’s a load of crap. Most atheists were once theists, so their starting position was one that believed in miracles.

They also mentioned that so many of these secular articles and documentaries “only show one side.” I thought my head was going to explode.

And they referred to the common complaints against the Bible as “the same tired old arguments that have been answered long ago.” It’s just so infuriating. If the congregants had any knowledge of the details of these “tired old arguments,” I doubt they’d unanimously find the “answers” satisfactory. But the danger with a series like this is that it almost works like a vaccination. The members of the congregation are sitting in a safe environment, listening to trusted “experts,” and they’re injected with a watered down strain of an argument. And it’s that watered down version that’s eradicated by the preacher’s message. So whenever the individual encounters the real thing, they think it’s already been dealt with, and the main point of the argument is completely lost on them.

For example, most Christians would be bothered to find out that the texts of the Bible are not as reliable as were always led to believe. Even a beloved story like the woman caught in adultery, where Jesus writes on the ground, we’ve discovered that it was not originally part of the gospel of John. It’s a later addition from some unknown author. To a Christian who’s never heard that before, it’s unthinkable! But if they’ve gone through classes where they’ve been told that skeptics exaggerate the textual issues in the Bible, and that the few changes or uncertainties deal with only very minor things, and that none of the changes affect any doctrinal points about the gospel, then it’s suddenly easier for them to swallow “minor” issues like the insertion of an entire story into the gospel narrative.


I’m going to either attend these sessions, or I’ll watch/listen to them once they’re available online. I may need to keep some blood pressure medication handy, though.

Public Office and Political Activism Just Don’t Mix

As I’ve mentioned before, my home state of Alabama has recently been wrangling over the subject of gay marriage. A federal judge in the city of Mobile ruled that Alabama’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, which made us the 37th state legalizing it. Even though the state was dragged into this position, I couldn’t help being a little proud that gay marriage became legal here before the Supreme Court’s ruling.

But of course, a couple of weeks after the federal judge’s ruling went into effect, Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore (of 10 Commandments monument fame) finally ordered all probate judges to stop issuing marriage licenses to gay couples, oddly claiming, “This is a case of dual sovereignty of federal and state authorities. The United States Supreme Court is very clear in recognizing that federal courts do not bind state courts.”

It’s hard to understand his position, considering past precedent. As Ruthann Robson (a law professor at the City University of New York) states, “If what Moore says is true, then no federal court could ever hold a state law, regulation or policy unconstitutional. And the 14th Amendment, then, would be essentially meaningless.”

The county probate judges have now been put in a difficult position between following a federal judge ruling (which applied to a specific case in Mobile County) and a direct order from the state supreme court. Last I checked, all counties in Alabama had stopped issuing marriage licenses to gay couples, and I think Mobile County simply stopped issuing them to anyone after being trapped in a catch 22.

So that’s the background. Today, someone pointed me to a lengthy blog post by a Christian here in Alabama entitled Same Sex Marriage: Where Do We Draw the Line? As you might imagine, it explores the recent events and asks “how should a Christian feel about this, and what should he or she do in response?” It won’t surprise most of you to find out that I disagreed with quite a lot of what she had to say. And not just from my differing religious and political views — I also think she makes some factual errors, and I even think her reasoning is flawed from the Christian perspective. I left a comment, and since I don’t know if she’ll approve it or not, I decided to repost it here for consideration and discussion:

So there are a number of areas in which you and I disagree.

First, you seem to suggest that the United States is a theocracy in the same way that the Israelites were under the Law of Moses. Is that what you believe? Because in the New Testament, Jesus repeatedly tells the disciples that he didn’t come to establish an earthly kingdom (like the Jews had expected of their Messiah), but a spiritual one. Later NT books back this up by saying that there is no more Jew or Greek, male or female, slave or free — instead, all have access to God. Instead of “God’s people” being a particular nation, as it was in the OT, it now simply means those who serve him, regardless of race or nationality. Galatians, Colossians, and Hebrews in particular explain that Christians are not bound by the Law of Moses. Therefore, using 2 Chronicles to state that God is going to judge us as a nation is reaching quite a bit. That applied to Israel and Judah — nations that were actual theocracies.

One of the founding principles of the United States was freedom of religion. That means citizens are free to practice whatever religion they believe in (or practice no religion at all) without fear of government intrusion. That means that if someone like Governor Bentley or Chief Justice Moore take on public office, they are promising to uphold the laws of this secular government, not whatever religious rules they believe in. They should certainly exercise the same rights we all have in living their personal lives according to their religious convictions. But in their role as a public official, they can’t bind other citizens to their own religious beliefs. If that’s a problem for them, then they should step down. In your article, you seem to conflate public office with political and social activism. The two just don’t mix. If Moore wants to lobby against homosexual marriage, then he should step down from the state supreme court and do just that.

As to whether or not this is a civil rights issue, I think you’re mistaken. Civil rights applies to more than just race. When Christians are targeted in other parts of the world, is that totally fine? Or in order to see a problem with it, must one also be a Christian? No, I think it’s obvious that discriminating against a person because of their religious beliefs definitely falls under civil rights. The same goes for sexual orientation.

You may feel from personally knowing a few gay people that you understand them very well, but I tend to think they understand themselves a bit better. I am personally heterosexual, and I know it would be very difficult for me to choose to be anything different. Is that how you view your own sexuality as well, or do you feel that you could very easily be attracted to other women if you simply changed your mind about what’s attractive?

Now instead of arguing that homosexuality is a choice, if you were simply arguing that it’s a personal manner in which some people are tempted, just as others are tempted by gambling, others by alcohol, etc, then I could accept that premise. Then the problem of homosexuality would just be its indulgence, instead of the thought-crime route you’re currently running with.

Regardless, what does it really matter? Maybe God has a problem with homosexuality, but it’s also claimed that he has a problem with divorce, gossip, lying, etc. Does that mean that we, as other individuals, have a right to judge those people, or that we should legislate against their right to live as they choose? God’s not going to hold you accountable for the actions of two other consenting adults who happen to live in your state. What they do is between them and God.

Therefore, since we do live in a secular society that respects all religions equally, as well as the right to have no religion at all, how can we deny people the right to marry under religious grounds? If this country ever became majority Muslim, but still had no established religion, should you be required to wear a hijab just because others want you to? Or should you be allowed to make that decision for yourself?

Finally, the last point I want to make, is that the biological argument against homosexuality is a bit silly. Do people only have sex to procreate? Or if procreation should be a requirement of marriage, what do we do about people who are sterile? Or what about two people who are past childbearing years, yet want to marry? The percentage of homosexuals in any population is always a minority, and it always has been. It truly is an “alternate lifestyle.” Also, homosexuality is not contagious. So we don’t have to worry about the human population dropping to 0 because everyone becomes gay.

Look, tell people why you think homosexuality is wrong. If that’s part of the “good news” of the gospel, then by all means preach it. Our country protects the right to free speech, so go for it. But don’t try to legislate morality. What good does that really do? Does it suddenly make a homosexual couple no longer want to get married? Does it make them stop being gay? Does it even keep them from having sex? People have to make their own choices about that, and if they don’t share your personal beliefs, let them live how they want. Isn’t that what you would want people to do for you? Or should we start fitting you for a hijab? ;)

Does God Change from the Old Testament to the New?

I started to leave this post as a comment on ratamacue0‘s recent post, What Started My Questioning? but decided to post it instead. Fellow blogger (and friend) unkleE left this comment as part of a conversation that he and ratamacue0 were having:

…most non-believers seem not to recognise that there isn’t one consistent portrait of God in the Bible – it changes through both Testaments – and then to choose the worst picture (which is often the earliest one) to critique. But if the claimed revelation of God is progressive, it would surely be fairer to choose a later picture.

I think most non-believers do recognize the difference; it’s just hard to forget that first impression given in the OT.

And really, how progressive is the picture the Bible paints? The NT points out that God doesn’t change, so those harsh characteristics he possessed in the OT are still being claimed by NT writers. The NT also repeats some things like “vengenance is mine, I will repay.” And it tells us not to fear those who can destroy the body, but he who can destroy both body and soul. The NT also gives us the doctrine of Hell, regardless of what that might mean.

I think some of the NT writers, like Paul and the author of Hebrews, are arguing that the method of salvation and the specific requirements God has for people are changing, and in that way the message becomes more progressive. More emphasis is placed on the mind and not just physical acts, for instance. But as to who God is, I don’t think that image really progresses from OT to NT. The same God that killed Uzzah for trying to steady the ark, condemns anyone who doesn’t believe in Jesus, even though it’s hard to blame many of the Jews for saying Jesus was a blasphemer, considering the teachings in the Old Law.

Such a God is irrational. Many Christians seem to agree, which is why they don’t believe in parts of the OT. But since the NT still claims the same irrational God, I see no reason to believe in him at all. And to me, that seems much more consistent than trying to hold onto parts of the mythology, while rejecting the unsavory parts. If that god were real, and he wanted people to know about him, I think he’d keep the one source of information about him pure. Since that obviously didn’t happen with the Bible, why continue to hold to it at all? Why not put faith in a god who isn’t concerned with petty dogmas, one who simply set things in motion for us? One that may inspire people from time to time, but is largely content to let us live our lives without interference? To me, that seems to fit the evidence far better… and while I don’t have any actual belief in such a deity, I can see why some would. Why mesh it with Christianity, when it seems so superfluous?