I put off posting until the final day of this month because it coincides with the Christian holy day with the coolest name: Spy Wednesday.  Not in the sense of the Gospel According to Ian Fleming, unfortunately, though that would be fitting considering that when Jesus was called before the Sanhedrin (Jewish high priests) and then sent to Pilate (the governor), it was for political insurrection.

That’s pretty spy-worthy.

Except the spy part refers to Yehuda ex Karioth, now known as Judas Iscariot, who conspired with the Sanhedrin to betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver.  More contemporary accounts hold that Judas was actually acting on the will of Jesus, which makes it the sort of double-cross Ian Fleming loved.

While I’ve always understood why Christians mark Easter Sunday as their most holy day, I’ve always thought today is more important.

Because Spy Wednesday is also the day Jesus became Christ.

***

I was raised Catholic, and remained Catholic until my junior year of high school.  At that time, I transferred to a public school and broke from the faith before, two years later, I enrolled in a Jesuit college.  I didn’t know what that meant at the time and I worried how that education might conflict with one in science (I was already a declared pre-med major); science and religion have always been strange bedfellows.

There were a fair amount of priests on faculty, however, and I made it a point to get to know them so that I understood, better, what being Jesuit meant.  Wikipedia notes that Jesuits are known colloquially as “God’s marines,” but none of the priests I ever met seemed in any way militant.  Seriously, imagine your grandfather.  Or better yet, your grandfather’s brother, and imagine him both drunk and too old to be creepy anymore, and you’ve got a pretty good idea of the men I met.  They all had the sorts of smiles that stayed around their eyes long after their mouths were otherwise occupied, and they all seemed to wear cardigans.  They spoke softly, and sometimes called you “Son.”

To be honest, I still don’t know exactly what Jesuit means, as opposed to what Catholic or Christian or Free Presbyterian (or Locked-Up Presbyterian) mean.  So far as I experienced it, it means education, compassion, and service.

Now that I’ve begun to teach classes in colleges, now that students and colleagues call me a professor and I hope one day to actually become one, I find I measure my own classroom performance against my experience in one particular class I attended more than a decade ago.  On the cusp of 32, it amazes me that a class I took as a sophomore in college, when I was 19 friggin’ years old, could be so developmentally important, but every year I realize just how much impact it’s had on my life.

That year, I took six credits of an honors seminar in theology, as required by the college’s curriculum.  I dreaded it; I was going to be a doctor, after all, and medicine isn’t about prayer.  It’s about knowledge and skill and precision, names of veins and arteries and the singular confidence that is picking up a scalpel and using it to cut open another person’s body, knowing you can help them, maybe even save them.

I am not a doctor because I realized I don’t have that confidence.

I didn’t realize it in that class, though.  That class was about other realizations, the kind of realizations so deep and fundamental you’re still making them a decade later.  Or at least I am.  I’ve always been slow like that.

My theology class was taught by a man named Robert Kennedy.  Jesuit priest trained in Zen Buddhism.  Tall and Irish.  Quick, piercing eyes that glasses did nothing to blunt.  When Father Kennedy listened to you, it made you want to say something that could change the world, because for a moment you believed you could.

We read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, but we didn’t consider it as a religious document.  We looked at its historical context.  After we finished Revelations, we began to read literature, including More’s Utopia and Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, in more religious contexts, basically viewing each work through a lens of theological criticism just as we had applied feminist or sociological criticism in our literature classes.

When we hit the Gospels, they came as a revelation to me.  Not for content; I knew what they said.  I narrated the Nativity when I was in second grade.

What came as a surprise was the questions we raised about them.  Who wrote them?  Was Jesus a real person, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate and on the third day rose again from the dead in fulfillment of the Scriptures?

Just asking those questions, nevermind the questions themselves, came as an epiphany for me; in those Catholic schools I’d attended, we weren’t allowed.  It could earn us detention.  Or worse.

***

When you ask questions in math or science, usually the answer is either an equation or an experiment away.  In literature and philosophy, five pages of well-argued bullshit do quite nicely.

History is different, though.  We want facts, evidence, citations, sources.  Or I do, anyway.  Maybe it’s the scientist in me.  When I consider life and its origins and evolution, nothing about it strikes me as so “convenient” that I require a deity to have initiated the process. There seems to be quite a bold leap from measurable, documentable evidence to “There must be an invisible dude in the sky.”

As with so many aspects of the Bible, problems with Jesus emerge when considering his life and story in the context of evidence.  There is, arguably, more circumstantial evidence of Jesus than of Shakespeare (four gospels versus a few signatures and a will), but Jesus didn’t write 30 plays.

Facts are hazy.  We know Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John by Anglican names—they were probably Matthaeis and Yuchanan, for two, and Marcus and Lucas, I suppose—but we’re not precisely sure who they were, when they were writing, or why.  By most modern academic agreement, the earliest gospel was Mark.  Mark was not an apostle, and he didn’t write until decades after Jesus’ crucifixion; most believe he was basically Peter’s secretary—Peter being Simon Peter, on whom Jesus declared he would build the Church, the building of which seems to have gotten in the way of Peter ever actually recording anything.  Most scholars in addition believe that two of the three other gospels—Matthew and Luke—were based on Mark and another source, called Q, and written several years later.

Those three—Matthew, Mark, and Luke—are the synoptics, meaning they summarize the life, ministry, and execution of Jesus of Nazareth.  None of the authors actually met the man in question.

John’s is an oddball gospel; not only is it written in a completely different style, but John’s record of events don’t always coincide with the others’, to the point that he places the date for Jesus’ crucifixion in a different year.  John’s also the guy who wrote Revelations.  I’ve also heard that John is the guy who wrote while fasting on an island on which he consumed nothing but hallucinogenic mushrooms for a while.

I can’t argue the veracity of that claim, but it would certainly explain a lot.  Especially considering Revelations.

But the veracity of the Gospel accounts overall is something that’s fascinated me for years.  Some studies have claimed the most recognizable brands on Earth are Coke, McDonald’s, and Disney, but they seem to completely ignore Jesus (TM).  The Bible is the greatest-selling book of all time by several orders of magnitude.  Lately it seems like social media gurus have been talking endlessly about personal branding, and here’s the guy with the most powerful personal brand in history.  “Love your neighbor.”  “Blessed are the meek.”  He spoke in soundbites ready for mass consumption.

Except, of course, he probably didn’t.

Which is the part that’s fascinated me.  The separation of the man from the brand.

His appearance, for one.  A quick scan of IMDb lists numerous actors who’ve tackled the role: James Caviezel, Jeremy Sisto, Christian Bale, Max von Sydow, Willem Dafoe to name arguably the most famous (and I have no idea why I always think of Peter O’Toole’s Lawrence of Arabia, but I could have sworn O’Toole gave the role a shot).  What you’ll notice is a bunch of white dudes of mostly European heritage.

Which, of course, Jesus was not.  The big geographical points of his story are Bethlehem, in Judea, and Nazareth, in Galilee.  Most of his ministry occurred in the latter until he traveled to Jerusalem, which was where he ran into all the trouble and was crucified.

The most famous aspects of the Judas story are the pieces of silver and the kiss.  The silver is incidental, but the kiss is important; without it, chances are the soldiers arresting Jesus wouldn’t have recognized him.  Because he was just a regular bloke, and being a regular bloke back then meant he was short, probably under 5’5”.  He was also Jewish, which meant he probably had a darker complexion, and while most accounts refer to him as a carpenter, he was actually a tekton, which is closer in meaning to builder, and probably a stone mason.  So he was a short, muscular, Jewish guy.

Not Christian Bale.

***

I think the more important aspect of the Spy Wednesday story, however, at least in Christian terms, is that it is the day Jesus became Christ.  The two words, nowadays, are so inseparable people sometimes confuse Christ with Jesus’ last name.

It’s not, of course.  They didn’t really have surnames then, not like we do.  There wasn’t a Jesus Jones and a Jesus Smith and a Jesus Washington.  People were identified, mostly, by where they came from, their parents, or their occupation; Jesus would likely have been Yehoshua ex Natzeret or Yehoshua bin Miryam—that is, Jesus of Nazareth or Jesus, son of Mary.  That latter because, remember, Jesus would have been an illegitimate child, and had no father.  This little factoid is interesting considering that, when Pilate offered the crowd a choice between Jesus and the other prisoner, that other prisoner was Jesus bar Abbas, literally “Jesus, son of the Father.”  Make of that what you will.

Christ, however, is not a name.  It’s a title.  Like doctor, or professor.  An honorific.  It means annointed, which is what Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, with whom Jesus was staying on the outskirts of Jerusalem, did on Holy Wednesday.  She annointed Jesus with a luxurious oil.

This annointment is what made Jesus both Messiah and Christ.  Both terms simply mean annointed.

***

I think about all this right around now every year for obvious reasons, not least because I still wonder about that account.  I can’t break from my scientific mindset; like Thomas the Doubter, I need more evidence to be convinced of any of the supernatural aspects of the story of Jesus.  I find the evidence he existed, and preached, and was crucified, reasonably credible.  There are enough accounts by enough writers that I can say I think it’s pretty likely a man named Jesus lived during the early part of the first century, and preached about love and our neighbors and had some relaxed and groovy philosophies.  I’m reasonably convinced he was a bit of a socialist and believed in judging not, and for that he got on the wrong side of the government, who didn’t know what else to do with him besides crucify him.

And that’s about it.  Virgin births and miracles and resurrections from the dead: not only am I not even a little convinced any of those things occurred, but neither am I convinced they matter.  In fact, most days, I go so far as to note I think that the supernatural aspects of the story cloud the truth of the man and his ministry.

Then again, as Pilate so famously asked: “What is Truth?”

(Image from here, after a BBC program and subsequent Popular Mechanics issue that explored forensic imaging of Jesus. Fascinating stuff.)




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Will Entrekin is a writer, professor, and Eagle Scout from New Jersey living in the New York metropolitan area. A novelist and screenwriter, Entrekin earned an MPW from the University of Southern California and is finishing an MBA from Regis University while pursuing what happens next. He can be found at his web site, willentrekin.com, and he has a self-titled collection available here. He hopes you'll check both out.

338 responses to “And on the Third Day He Rose Again [Citation Needed]”

  1. Becky says:

    “I’m reasonably convinced he was a bit of a socialist and believed in judging not, and for that he got on the wrong side of the government, who didn’t know what else to do with him besides crucify him.”

    LOL.

    You’re all scientific and stuff, but you think Jesus was “a bit” of an adherent to an economic and social philosophy that didn’t exist for another 2,000 or so years (of the theory, we know this for sure).

    AH.

    Good times.

    • Becky says:

      Sorry. You know I love you, but the time-space continuum was a little politically spun there.

      • There, perhaps, but nitpicking social theory drastically misses the spirit of the essay.

        • Becky says:

          You wrote it, man. The socio-political theory was introduced entirely by you. I mean, it’s important to your point or it’s not. And if it’s not, then what is it doing there? And if it is, why am I being encouraged to ignore it?

        • Hannah says:

          I don’t see it so much as “ignore it”, but more that you shouldn’t take it so literally. I don’t take Will’s phrasing to mean he thinks Jesus is a follower of socialist thinking, as explained by Carl Marx et al. He’s not trying to say Jesus was a time traveller or that time bent around his very mind and body.

          I think he just means that some of Jesus’ ideas about community and how people should behave towards one another is something that we can recognize today as having some relation to socialist theory.

        • I didn’t say ignore it. I just said you’re missing the point, which was that Jesus’ progressive ideas with regard to economic, social, and political issues–which may have had some elements common to socialism but probably also had some elements common to Democrats and the separation of Church and state–were what got him on the wrong side of the government.

          To make it explicitly political, the conservative Christian right has largely appropriated the image of Christ, and the one most people know is in general either incomplete or outright incorrect. If Jesus saw what people who claim to follow his way are doing, he’d . . .

          Well. Roll over in his tomb.

          Ha!

        • Becky says:

          Yes, I understand that.

          But on the same token, I could say Jesus was a Tea-Partier because he didn’t like the metaphorical “Fed” of his time.

          Tomato tomahto. It’s not helpful.

        • Becky says:

          The above was in response to Hannah, of course.

          Will, what I’m saying is that your rhetorical attempts to co-opt Jesus as a secular figure are naked and more than a tad wobbly.

          You said yourself that’s what you’re trying to do.

          He had no expressed opinion on the separation of church and state, for godssake.

          He lived 2,000 years ago, when the church (temple), when it wasn’t Rome, WAS the state. He advocates no dissension from that. What he didn’t like was corruption of “the church,” which was actually a Jewish temple, and its officials by occupying forces.

          He’s more comparable to an Iraqi jihadist, if you absolutely insist upon contemporary parlance.

        • Becky says:

          He said he was the son of GOD for crying out loud. How do you secularize that?

        • I always took “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and render unto God the things that are God’s” as pretty explicitly supporting separation of church and state.

          I’m not really absolutely insisting on anything.

          I don’t think I’m attempting to co-opt Jesus as secular figure. Really, what I’d like to do is clear the whole table and start afresh, divorcing the historicity of the man from the religiosity of the legend and treating what is reasonably credible as such, and that for which there is less evidence as tenuous at best.

          What does the story need the resurrection and virgin birth for, anyway?

        • I’m not convinced he ever actually claimed to be the son of God, and even if he did, the prayer he taught (only in Luke, if I’m not mistaken) begins “Our Father,” which means, really, given the plural possessive, that we’re all sons and daughters of God.

        • Becky says:

          Will.

          I urge you to consider other interpretations of the Caesar business.

          Beyond that, my point is that there was no secularism in Jesus’ time. There is no divorcing his historicity from religion. I’m sorry. Jesus was a believer and his actions were religiously motivated.

          If you want to talk about current interpretations of his belief, that’s a different story, but Jesus was a religious figure with religious aims. He said so repeatedly.

        • So far as I’m aware, he was also eschatological, which means he literally believed that the end of the world was coming within his generation or that of those around him.

          Obviously, not all his beliefs were correct.

          I don’t know what he said. There are only a few accounts of his life and teachings, and I don’t take any of them at face value. Even “Render unto Caesar.”

          What Jesus did or did not believe has no real bearing on the fact–or non-fact–of the post-crucifixion resurrection. The post above is less about what he believed than who he was. You’ve twisted a single word of 2,000 to skew an entire essay, and it’s worth noting I predicated that thought with “I’m reasonably convinced.” Which doesn’t mean he was anything; these are the things of which I’m convinced, by historical data and the lack thereof.

          I don’t know what his beliefs were. He never wrote them down.

        • Becky says:

          Well, regardless of what you’re convinced of, the Bible and other sources for the standards of the time are all we have.

          Based on both, it is likely that Jesus was a charismatic street preacher who attempted to–or was perceived as having attempted to–incite a riot at a temple market.

          For sure, he believed in God. That belief was the impetus for all his actions, according to the Bible, which, as unreliable as you think it is, is better evidence than the no evidence you have to the contrary.

          Whether or not Christ ever rose from the dead is a matter of faith.

          What is NOT a matter of faith is that Jesus is and was a religio-political figure who was not a secularist and cannot be spoken of as such.

        • I’m not arguing I have contrary evidence. Just noting I’m not convinced by the evidence of the Bible. I think that’s fair.

          And why not?

        • Becky says:

          Belief or disbelief is up to you. If you say you think or do not think X, then I really have no choice but to believe that you do or do not think X. Unfortunately, it has no logical implications for “truth” and doesn’t say anything except what you, Will Entrekin, think and believe.

          And why not what?

          Why can’t Jesus be spoken of as a secular figure? Well, I suppose he can. At least insofar as it is technically possible.

          But if reality and truth and evidence are what you’re after, it’s somewhat disingenuous to do so.

        • Becky says:

          And somehow I missed your question about the resurrection and virgin birth. It interests me, so here goes.

          For one thing, the story needs them if they actually happened. Seems unlikely enough from a scientific point of view, but that is sort of the point:

          Jesus was not entirely of this earth.

          If he actually wasn’t of this earth, then there’s no reason for him to be bound to things like standard procreation and death, and no reason, therefore, to call these events “impossible.”

          If he was perfectly human and none of that *actually* happened (I mean, these are matters of faith), it is still perfectly useful to the story in a metaphorical sense. The virgin birth makes him purer and operating on a higher authority than anyone else (at a time when patrilineage was the social rule, who your dad was mattered). It is best, on the human level, to be the son of the king. The only way to do better than that–to have higher authority than that–is to be the son of God. That makes you…well…the king of kings.

          And the resurrection and living Christ is significant because it does not allow Jesus’ teachings, theoretically, to be bound to an isolated moment in time. The idea is that he is “everlasting,” still alive, still watching, still out there (up there), somewhere, holding these convictions.

          So the effect of the risen Christ, at least in part, is to keep his teachings appropriate cross-temporally.

          So, in the end, there are about a hundred different answers to your question about what the virgin birth and resurrection are for.

        • Becky says:

          Misuse of “patrilineage” there. To the best of my knowledge, kin relationships in ancient Judaism were largely determined by who one’s mother was. But it was still a patriarchy. That was the word I wanted there.

        • Everything, ever, on this Earth has been of it. Well. Just about. Some meteorites, I guess. Area 51.

          People, at some point, believed certain human beings were born of the union between insert-the-God-of-your-choice here and a mortal woman. I know Zeus boinked lots of women, and there subsequently existed stories that certain men had mothers who had been virgins and fathers who were Gods.

          Of course, we now know Zeus was a story. A myth.

          I see no evidence the same can’t be said of the Judeo-Christian God. I’m sure some parts of the Bible are factually accurate. I doubt the appearances of God are.

          I know. Blasphemy. But, hey, if the choice is either a Heaven ruled by a petulant toddler or a fiery Hell, well, sounds to me like I’m taking chances either way.

          I think I get what you mean about noting that the supernatural aspects of his story, but I’m not convinced of the argument. We study many lives, people, teachings, and work long after the people/authors are dead. Literature majors apply psychological criticism to the work of Shakespeare. So why wouldn’t we use modern methods of interpretation to further deepen our understanding of the story. Truthfully, I don’t see why a couple of guys who wrote about Jesus at the end of the first century after never having met them have any sort of authority. If I claimed, say, Martin Luther King was a vodou priest, wouldn’t you want more evidence than my word given that I never met him and was born a substantial amount of time after he died?

        • Becky says:

          I’m not telling you what to believe, Will, only that there’s belief involved. I’m not interested in whether or not there’s a maker; I advocate nothing. You just asked why those elements were important to the story, so I told you what I thought.

          They’re important, from one point of view, because they “actually” happened (whether you believe that or not is irrelevant). From another point of view, they’re likely in there to give Jesus’ teachings socio-political legitimacy in their own time. From another point of view, they’re there to guarantee the teachings’ legitimacy going forward.

          It is to stop people, in part, from doing exactly what you’re trying to do. Give the teachings and their authors no more legitimacy than Shakespeare, write or read God out of the bible, strip Jesus of divine authority so that he can be dismissed as any other thinker, etc.

          They’re there because people are prone to (and probably always have been prone to) exactly this kind of thing.

          Whether that’s right or wrong or correct or incorrect is none of my concern. That wasn’t the question.

        • So, what you’re saying is that the resurrection and virgin birth are there so that, 2,000 years later, we can’t discuss the life of Jesus in different ways? Given that your saying that those events’ occurring effectively means I’m not allowed to discuss the life of Jesus, I don’t think requiring better evidence for them is out of the question.

          And I’m trying to take belief out of the equation.

        • Becky says:

          I’m saying that they found their way into the story because they had a function. And one way to characterize that function was to elevate the status and authority of Jesus and his story above those who would question him or it.

          Nobody’s stopping you from discussing anything or reading the Bible any way you like. I never said any such thing. I WOULD say that yes, discouraging people from doing that is most definitely one of the reasons for elevating Jesus in that way.

          To put him, very literally, above any human authority. The same reason a king deifies himself or anyone does.

          I’m really not sure what I’m saying here that’s controversial.

        • Sorry. I took your “Jesus cannot be spoken of as such” as saying we couldn’t, or shouldn’t.

          I think that putting Jesus above human authority is part of the problem. I see no reason to do so.

        • Becky says:

          Well, when you invent your religion based on what is necessary by your estimation in your socio-political context, I’m sure you will not do the same thing.

          I’m not sure what you’re after here.

          I don’t know if you’re trying to convince me that these things didn’t happen (this would be wasted breath, since I don’t necessarily believe that they did), if you want them to take these things out of the religion (probably not the most realistic thing), or if you’re sniffing around for a denunciation of Christianity, or of religion, or of the tenets of religion, or what.

          Like, what are you hoping for here?

        • Um. After and hoping for? Just discussion of the topic at hand, which seems to be Jesus, faith, and religion, as well as any ancillary topics that discussion brings up.

          I don’t know what you mean by “take these things out of the religion.” I’m not sure what you’re referring to when you say “things.”

        • Becky says:

          Metaphysics, basically. The supernatural stuff. I mean, that’s what you’re taking issue with here, right? In your most ideal situation, how would Christianity BE? Or would it be at all?

          I mean, you’re driving at something, I’m just trying to figure out what.

    • Well sure! I had to give contemporary context! Probably should have said “community organizer.”

      Because you’re right, of course. Jesus was about as much a socialist as Obama, I’d wager.

      Seriously, though, easier for a camel to pass through the idea of a needle, render unto Caesar, vows of poverty, blessed are the poor et cetera . . . I mean, sure, socialism–as economic/social philosophy–has only been recently formally defined, but many of the basic tenets aren’t exactly new.

      See also: literary license.

      • Becky says:

        Literary liscense. (See also: Spin)

        Jesus’ community was of 12 people (ostensibly) until some years after he died. I mean, I’m struggling with your metaphor here.

        • Yeah, I suck at metaphors. I just meant that Jesus was all about social equality–from the Beautitudes to the cleansing of the Temple–and his passionate preaching to that effect is basically what got him before Pilate. Pilate and the Roman hold on Jerusalem were, at the time, somewhat tenuous, and part of the reason for the crucifixion–by some accounts–was to stave off a people’s rebellion. Not that Jesus was encouraging rebellion, mind you. Just stirring the pot and reminding the people they had power Rome often didn’t want to acknowledge.

        • Becky says:

          Well, I’ve invited my sister over. She’s a theologian and an expert, certainly more so than any of us, on the Bible as it pertains to the life of Christ, including the historo-philosophical context, so maybe she can weigh in on all of this. I don’t know if she’ll come because she’s politics-avoidant, but I think her input would be valuable.

        • Oh, that should be pretty cool!

          The thing I always think about Biblical evidence is: What else ya got? Take away the Bible, and what’s left? And I mean in overall terms. Any evidence for big sky dude without the Bible? Not sure.

          There is some extra-Biblical reference to Jesus in some Roman work, especially in Josephus. Problem is, in the passage that explicitly mentions Jesus, there is also mention of the resurrection that appears–like the resurrection account in Matthew–to be tacked on after the fact.

        • Becky says:

          Well, he was a guy with a roving band of appx. 12 disciples who was snuffed out pretty early in his rabble-rousing. I can’t imagine that he would be of any particular importance to anyone other than those who made him important–his followers and their followers and so on.

          So it’s not surprising that no one else seems to have really noticed him and that the writings of those people are all we’ve got.

          Take away a lot of historical objects and we know nothing about the people they told us about. I mean, that’s an obviation.

        • Uche Ogbuji says:

          I took Will’s reverse atavism as literary device, which I think fair enough, but never mind that because the resulting discussion is interesting, if typical of the impasse from trying to combine theology and historicity.

          Speaking of folks who should be in on this debate, where the hell (ignosce mihi) is Erika?

        • Becky says:

          Mmm…I don’t know.

          Saying Jesus was “a bit of a socialist” is LOADED with an explicit ideological agenda.

          A literary device is comparing him to a flower or a lamb. Saying that he would probably agree with you (or me or anyone) politically is something else entirely. I mean, that’s exactly what Christians do that pisses off liberal secularists, after all.

          That said, poor Will took that part out, so I should let it go.

        • Erika Rae says:

          I’m not sure I want to get involved in this one.

          Becky, you’re sharper than a razor. I respect you for it. Seems to me you read between the lines and found agenda in Will’s post. That so-called (by me) agenda smacks of a certain way many today think of Jesus. It claims to be without bias, but when it comes down to it, is rife with it. You’re keeping him on task to be the neutral commentator he is claiming to be. That’s my take, anyway. Could be wrong. Often am.

          Will, you get points for asking some hard questions and for putting your opinion out there in a controversial week. I was quite entertained by your post, as a matter of fact. I am not offended by your political label, as I think I know what you mean. I also took your desire to take out the virgin birth and resurrection as something *you* don’t need when thinking about Jesus. Many today would agree with you. (Whether I do or not is irrelevant here.)

          Having said that,I agree with Becky about good reason in the account for it.

          Not that you guys need my take on any of this. Carry on then. Back to your corners.

        • Erika Rae says:

          I should add that I’m not judging Will’s account to actually be full of agenda…. Not mine to say either way.

          I’ll say it again: Will, I thought you did a good job with this.

        • Thanks, Erika. I tried to be without agenda, but I think one never knows. It’s almost like it’s only when one tries to be fully dispassionate and nearly clinical and informal that one’s true agenda is revealed. I don’t know if I have one, but then again that might be the most certain indication I do.

          And I don’t know if I’ve admitted down below (I feel like I’ve said so much [but haven’t said enough]) I did have selfish reasons for posting this, not least was that desire to keep on task that you cite Becky as holding me to. Becky’s always been one of the sharpest critics I’ve known.

          When I was in a screenplay class in grad school, Syd Field told me “With all due respect, it’s just bullshit” with reference to my script. I don’t think he would have said that to anyone else. I think he knew my ego could handle it, that I didn’t associate my writing with my self. I think he knew he could be more harsh/blunt because he knew I required it, that he had to be brash to really make me listen.

          I tend to think similarly of Becky. So thanks Becky.

          And I think you’re right, Erika, about my removing the resurrection/virgin birth because I don’t need them. I understand the points made with regard to why the account does, but I also wonder why people do. I think that’s kind of fascinating, psychologically.

          Like the idea of original sin and requiring a savior. It amazes me people don’t believe they can save themselves. It amazes me they think they need saving.

    • Communal living is ancient.

      Also, Christian. From Acts 4:

      34. Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold,
      35. And laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.

      You can’t get any more socialist than Jesus’s basic teaching: Sell all you have and give the money to the poor.

      • Becky says:

        That’s funny. I thought Jesus’ basic teaching was “Love one another,” and/or “God is love.”

        And of course communal living is ancient. But ancient communal living is not the same as socialism or any other kind of modern economic/political system. The bible doesn’t say, for example, what should be done with industrial factories and who should own the oil, electricity, water, and gas companies, or that an existing power locus should force and/or coerce people to participate in charity.

        Attempts at justifying one’s preferred modern socio-political theory by saying Jesus advocated it more-or-less-kinda-sorta-per-one’s-interpretation are rhetorical devices with no real logical substance.

        • You’re thinking of Matthew 22:36-40:

          36″Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'[a] 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'[b] 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

          If you love your neighbor as yourself, you’ll share as freely with your neighbor as you share with yourself. You’ll follow John the Baptist’s advice: if you have two of something, give one to someone has none.

          The communal living that Jesus taught and that the early Christians followed occurred in a time of emperors and merchants. Yet he said you should follow a third way, a way that is at odds with hierarchical systems of privilege like feudalism and capitalism, but which fits perfectly with socialism.

        • Becky says:

          He said you should.

          Not that someone else should force you to.

          That is where the bottom drops out.

        • Becky says:

          I should add that this:

          “If you love your neighbor as yourself, you’ll share as freely with your neighbor as you share with yourself. You’ll follow John the Baptist’s advice: if you have two of something, give one to someone has none.”

          Is probably why Christian conservatives give more to charitable causes, both religious and secular, than liberals do, despite earning less, on average.

          They do give “freely;” that is, they give voluntarily and without threat of punitive action. And without advocating the direction of such threats at others. Again, if you absolutely insist on modern equivalents, this behavior is much closer in practice to what Jesus advocated than an elaborate federal welfare/taxation/subsidy system.

        • Isn’t Hell punitive, or some sort of extortion, maybe? I mean, you’re totally right there was no bit about people forcing other people to give away Earthly possessions etc., but there was also the thing about the rich man and the camel and the eye of the needle, so isn’t there some implication that if you don’t do what he said, you don’t get into Heaven?

          Good point about modern charity and who contributes thereto. I always want to contribute more to charity (besides the money from my collection, I mean). Sadly, still broke. Maybe one day. Hell, at this point, I sorta could use some charity. Ah, well.

        • Becky says:

          Well, yeah. But that’s at the hands of God. Not mortals.

          Per the bible, God is qualified to make such judgments. Though I think one can technically go to hell for greed (it is a mortal sin, isn’t it?), I’m not sure that failing to give X% of your paycheck to charity, government-led or otherwise, qualifies as greed. It probably depends on what, if anything, you do for or give to others in lieu of money.

          God and Jesus tend to be more flexible in this respect that the feds do.

  2. Great post Will. I’m going to have to reread it at least once to get all this down–the Christ thing is fascinating.

    • Thanks, Jessica. Yeah, it always struck me as fascinating. It’s one of those things that few people realize because it’s always like “Whoa Christ!” and then somebody sings a hymn and there usually isn’t much discussion.

  3. angela says:

    fascinating post. i didn’t grow up religious at all, but i always find this kind of stuff very interesting.

    • Thanks, Angela. Growing up religious and then studying science has been weird in a lot of ways. But it’s also led to some fascinating observations. This is actually an outspringing of a larger project I’m working on, about faith and science. Someday I’ll finish it.

  4. Zara Potts says:

    I love this stuff and I love the debates that ensue just as much. I wish I knew more about it so i could offer an intelligent opinion – but I was raised non religious and have only ever entered a church once.
    Great, timely stuff Will.

  5. Ravnostic says:

    I always enjoy your writing, Will, but especially when it’s about a topic such as religion. I’m a big fan of Karen Armstrong, as well, and her books on this subject were inspirational to me. Ironically, she lost her faith in researching the hisorical facts about Jesus (and other religious figures and datum), but then refound her faith, on different terms, later on. I still need to read the book she wrote about that.

    I’m with you; Christ’s having risen from the dead is rather irrelevant, IMHO.

    • Thanks, Ravvy. I’m not familiar with Armstrong but will definitely check her out. The book I remember reading, especially when writing The Prodigal Hour, was Donald Spoto’s The Hidden Jesus. Very good exploration of the historicity.

      Yeah, I’m not sure the whole point of the resurrection besides the fulfillment of the scriptures. Even the dying for our “sins” part doesn’t make sense.

      Living a good life, judging not, etc. . . all those things do. But not that other stuff.

    • PS–I always have to ask: Did she find her faith under her bed? That’s where I always think such things–Jesus, faith, sobriety, self–usually are. Or at least the first place I check. I lose everything under my bed.

      Sometimes in it! Zomg ha!

  6. Richard Cox says:

    Will, I loved this piece.

    Distilled to their most essential point, aren’t Jesus’ teachings, at least the way the translated gospels have presented them to us, “Love thy neighbor”?

    I agree with Becky that it’s ridiculous to guess how Jesus might think about modern political debates in the United States. But since it’s a timely idea to consider, taking just the message of the gospels, I wonder if Jesus would support the idea of some kind of government-aided health care insurance coverage for all citizens, or if would he take the position that if you couldn’t afford it, you ought to be denied health care?

    As a former believer, I’m biased in this discussion and maybe I shouldn’t bother to comment. On the other hand, having been raised Catholic, and being surrounded by Christianity in Oklahoma, my opinion is that non-Christians tend to behave politically and in their everyday lives much more like I would suppose Jesus would. Based on my understanding of the gospels, which admittedly is nowhere near Will’s or Becky’s sister.

    • Thanks, Richard.

      I admit it was a mistake to call him a socialist. My goal was to contrast what we think we know of him with what we actually know of him. Would I guess what he thought politically?

      Nah.

      What I guess is that he was relaxed and groovy. That he wouldn’t judge whom we loved so long as we did. And I think he must have believed in social equality. By most accounts, he considered a virtue and lived ascetically.

      And yes, that’s exactly what I take as the essence of his teachings, and most days I’m not sure why more than that is necessary.

      • Becky says:

        Well, you’d have to look into the standard Judaic rulings on who it was okay to love at that time. My guess is that Jesus’ opinions were similar.

        I think it’s probably safe to say that he loved the little children, for example.

        But what did he think of gay marriage? Impossible to say. It didn’t exist as far as we know. Wasn’t even something he had to consider. I mean, you have to be willing to turn that logic on yourself. You can’t just disallow one interpretive conclusion on the grounds that it’s interpretive and then offer your own interpretation instead. Or I suppose you can, but it’s not a logically sound thing to do.

        • Hmmm. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Which of course doesn’t speak to marriage or gay, but does speak to love.

          Also, my first film professor was Irvin Kershner. Directed The Empire Strikes Back. He had a tiny role in one of the Jesus flicks as Zebedee. Story goes that there was an adulteress about to be stoned, and Jesus approached the prospective stoners, and told them “He who is without sin can cast the first stone.” Which corroborates his “Judge not lest ye be judged” line of reasoning.

          Of course, that wasn’t gay marriage. But the story does include love, marriage, and sex. And his thought was to judge not.

          So I tend to think that if Jesus met a gay couple, and they were sufficiently relaxed and groovy and loving each other, Jesus’d be cool with that.

          He lived with 12 other dudes, after all. Put 12 dudes together and there’s going to be locker room talk. I’m not sure of what sort, and I’m not saying either Jesus or his apostles were gay, but I am saying that Jesus was crucified at 33 or so during a time when it was common to be engaged at 13 or 14–as his mother was, as was the Jewish custom–and I think the fact that we have no record of his consideration of it says more of the record than of his consideration.

        • Becky says:

          You’re free to speculate as you wish, of course.

          But that’s what it is. Speculation. And frankly, it probably has nothing to do with the record. Homosexuality wasn’t even a thing–a concept–until very recently. Men being attracted to men, engaging in intimate acts with men, that all probably existed, but the notion of it as a social classification in the sense that we think of it was likely non-existent. Jesus probably didn’t talk about it, probably didn’t even think about it the way we do because no one back then did. I mean, if you want to talk about Jesus as an average dude, this is the reality.

          Calling him an average dude means that he was a man of his times, and his times, by and large, didn’t even recognize the existence of homosexuality as thing. I mean, the whole concept would likely be utterly foreign to him, as would have even the concept of marrying for love in they way we think of it, let alone combining the two.

          I mean, the irony here is that what you’re advocating is really more speculative and interpretive and unsubstantiated than much of what most Christians would say about it. You’re playing the same game.

          And what makes you so sure that Jesus wasn’t married? I thought there was a whole realm of research dedicated to that possibility.

        • Matt says:

          Lots of archeological and anthropological evidence has been coming to light recently that both Greek and Roman societies were very fluid sexually, with lots of movement back and forth across gender lines by both men and women, to the point where there was likely no understood difference between “homo” and “hetero” sex; there was just copulation. Enough free-loving to put the hippies to shame.

          Speaking of…while reading the back-and-forth about the virgin birth in the thread above, I got to thinking about something. I remember reading somewhere that the term “virgin” in the Biblical sense is a mistranslation of the word meaning “unmarried woman” and actually had no bearing on whether or not she’d had sex. So “virgin birth” meant “born of an unmarried woman,” not “born without sexual intercourse.”

        • Becky says:

          This is yet another instance where my Aramaic/Greek/Latin-reading sister would be mightily helpful, but she refuses to participate because she is a big meanie.

          That said, I should point out that “unmarried,” as a matter of social norms, may have carried the notion of virginity along with it implicitly. I’m not sure what kind of indications we have that a word for “virgin,” in the sense we know it, would have even been used in polite conversation, let alone a religious book at the time it was written.

          But that’s just a historical hunch.

        • I think I can actually field that one. The word the Gospels use to refer to Miryam is alma, which meant “young woman” moreso than virgin. Which she would have been; she was probably betrothed to Yusif when she was 13 or 14, as was Jewish custom at the time.

          I think. I know I’ve read all this, I think in The Hidden Jesus.

          But yeah, Matt, no real evidence of a virgin birth. And like a resurrection, Jesus would have merely been another in a long line of mortals born of the union between a deity and a mortal. Zeus, for one, always had his dick in a mortal maiden.

        • Matt says:

          That guy was insatiable. What I love about reading Greek mythology was the extravagant lengths Zeus went to just to get his nut off – especially those times when he’d take the form of an animal and entice the woman into fornicating with him in that shape. Rampant horniness + divine power wasn’t enough; he needed to throw in a little beastiality every now and then to keep things spicy.

        • Matt says:

          @Becky – it might even depend on what region we’re talking about. Married/unmarried seems (to the best of archeological evidence) to have meant little implicitly or otherwise when it came to dictating a person’s sexual behavior among the Greeks & Romans, but for those peoples and tribes in the further reaches of the empire, who knows?

          Well, certain scientists and scholars, I guess. Just not me.

    • Becky says:

      I think one would probably have to explain health care and modern medicine to him before he could formulate an opinion.

      Beyond that, it’s useless speculation. A matter of faith, if you will.

      • Well, he healed the blind and the lepers and raised the dead, and was known well enough as a healer to attract crowds but never charged for it . . .

        Of course, I consider the miracles among the supernatural aspects I’m not convinced of the evidence for, but still.

        • Becky says:

          He also made food magically multiply and gave it away for free, but I don’t think that can be taken as an argument that he believed food vendors should not charge for their goods.

        • Anon says:

          Besides, it’s distinctly possible that he elected to allow the lepers and hungry to work out a payment plan but was then arrested and killed. So, when people started asking around – “Hey, didn’t you owe the Nazarene money?” (perhaps Peter, now the executor of his estate) – the answer suddenly became, “Me? Nah, naw, no way. He said it was, like, for free. He was a groovy dude, you know.” History may be written about the disinterested dead but it is documented by the living, who often are very interested in how things are remembered.

        • Becky says:

          “History may be written about the disinterested dead but it is documented by the living, who often are very interested in how things are remembered.”

          God, ain’t it true.

          Best quote of the week. The month. All-time! *confetti*

        • Matt says:

          Yeah, that’s a pretty damn good one. I’m going to write that down for later.

          Now if only we knew who Anon is, so I could give proper attribution.

        • Anon says:

          Meh. Take it – it’s yours. I couldn’t possibly be the first person to string those words together so it would be plagiarism on my part to claim it anyway. (:

  7. Irene Zion says:

    Will,

    This was very interesting reading.
    Good to read someone with an open mind about religion. Doesn’t happen often enough.

    • Thanks, Irene. Unfortunately, I think, when it comes to religion, I align more with Bill Maher, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Sam Harris–though not, it’s worth noting, when it comes to faith and God. I see how useful it can be, psychologically, of course, but I’m just not convinced that outweighs the sometimes-harm of it. I try to be open-minded about it. Sometimes I don’t manage.

  8. Jude says:

    Spy Wednesday – I’ve never heard that term before. Love it!

    Interesting point you make with Jesus becoming the Christ that day – again I had never thought about the transition. I agree with you – that seems to be the most important day of Easter. Why has it been overlooked?

    I’m not religious but I do believe that Jesus’s sayings (if they were really his sayings) are a good mantra for the rest of us to live our lives by. Unfortunately though it’s all theory and not enough doing…

    • Hey, Jude (don’t make it bad)! Heh. Bet you get that all the time. Sorry!

      I think it’s overlooked for the same reason so much about Jesus is overlooked–WHOA VERJIN BERHT ADN REZUREXSHIN!!!111!!!

      Arguably (as demonstrated above) the greatest psychological diversion/misdirection of all time.

      If only I thought Jesus had meant for that to be the case . . .

      I agree about some of his sayings. The apocryphal Gospel of Thomas–he of doubting–purports to have been record of 120 sayings of Jesus. Some of which aren’t exactly very . . . well. Christian, for lack of a better word.

      If they’re real (and that’s a giant if), Jesus doesn’t seem to have thought very highly of women, for example.

    • A link to the Gospel in question:

      http://www.gnosis.org/naghamm/gosthom.html

      PS– is posting links breaking the page? It seems off up top, and I can’t see a good reason why. It wasn’t like that to begin with, I don’t think.

      (I don’t mean this PS directed at Jude, just in general)

  9. J.M. Blaine says:

    My college Bible studies were a bit more biased
    but I do recall one prof
    telling us that there were something like
    600 plus prophecies in the Old Testament
    that for told the coming of Yeshua
    I am a natural skeptic
    but some were pretty convincing.

    Lifeway Christian Booksellers wouldn’t like
    the one in Isaiah that basically says
    There’s this guy coming
    & he’s the One
    but he doesn’t look like much
    and he’s not charming at all.

    And though there are a card-worthy
    quotations – He also said stuff like
    I didn’t come to bring peace
    but rather a sword.
    &
    Unless you eat my flesh & drink my blood
    you have no part of me.

    Let’s see Family Bookstores put that one
    on a t-shirt.

    He also (supposedly) said
    I came to bring fire and division to this world.
    That for sure is the truth.
    Talk to twenty different theologians
    and you’ll get twenty different Jesuses.
    Go to 20 different churches –
    20 different Jesuses.

    The most famous person in all of history
    & we get 4 short bios
    from the same era.
    I’m a Believer but
    also an Absurdist.

    Jesus, the Enigma of all Ages.

    Loved this, give us some more.

    • Becky says:

      Yeah. There is that. Jesus was not entirely groovy. A bit of a dark, macabre in a number of ways, not the least of which was the whole martyrdom, walking dead thing.

      Dying for our sins and all.

      Even my mom can’t lay a guilt trip like that.

    • Becky says:

      that should read “a dark, macabre *figure*”

    • Thanks J.M. And yeah, great points. He certainly could be, as Becky points out, rather macabre. Of course, he thought the world was about to end.

      Given his vampiric, blood-drinking tendencies, I’m given to wondering if he sparkled on the cross. ZOMG ha!

      Your point about difference is so important, too. I fear I didn’t make that clear enough in the post. My Jesus doesn’t need to have risen from the dead. I know other people need salvation from their sins, but I find the idea of sin, in general, rather quaint, so I don’t think I needed some random dude to die for mine.

      A believer and an absurdist? I like that. A lot. Sometimes I think one has to be an absurdist to believe. By which I mean no offense!

      And I will!

      • J.M. Blaine says:

        AJ Jacobs
        said something to the effect of there
        being a glory to following things you
        do not understand.
        & Rilkes said
        Christianity shouldn’t be so much
        about having the right answers
        as asking the right questions.
        I like that.
        If you just subscribe to
        what fits in your mind
        that’s sort of a small existence.

        I like the Christian Existentialists
        & I’m sure down with the absurdists
        but a good verse & chorus of
        What a Friend We Have in Jesus
        holding hands with my wife
        in the back pew at River Assembly
        is good for my soul as well.

  10. Jessica says:

    This was very insightful, please post more.

  11. Uche Ogbuji says:

    That was a fun read for a lapsed Catholic like me who has spent a lot of time ambling the overdecorated cloisters of theology.

    By the way, in my experience it’s treacherous to let a Jesuit know you are a lapsed Catholic. As you say many modern followers of Loyola are but nominally so, and are rather urbane and open-minded. But there are enough of the old school out there, and they are wicked sharp. If they get a sniff of the fact that you’ve had catechism, they’ll know exactly what buttons to push, trying to reason you back into the fold.

    Quick question: have you read Robert Graves’s King Jesus? If not, from the above, you simply must. It’s an idiosyncratic masterpiece.

    And yeah, I have often said to myself: “I wouldn’t mind a little taste of whatever the hell John was smoking on Patmos. That dude dipped deep purple, f’sho!”

    Happy Holy weekend thingy.

    • Thanks Uche! And is it? I’m not sure how much I told the priests about my lapsed beliefs. Of course, that’s partly because, as is probably clear, I still don’t know exactly what I believe. There’s so much to parse, wade through, and validate. Which I fear spectacularly misses the point of belief.

      I believe about their trying to reason one back into the fold. Kennedy was that quick sort. Holy Hell, guy kept us on our toes.

      And I have not. I will definitely check it out. Given my fascination with the man, I’m a fan of most Jesus lit, Anne Rice aside.

  12. Uche Ogbuji says:

    Oh, and I used to collect cool names of all the various holy days around Easter and Eastern Epiphany. One of my all-time favorites is Quasimodo, which was vulgar Italian/Spanish/French/Provençal for low Sunday, or Sunday after Easter Sunday. I’d heard of Spy Wednesday, but I’d more usually heard it called Holy Wednesday, day before another cool-day-name Maundy Thursday. Did you guys actually call it Spy Wednesday in your Catechism or Mass?

  13. I’ve known quite a few god-fearing scientists. You should read “Telling the Truth About History.” It’s an interesting read.

    Skepticism is good. In the end, I believe faith is more important.

    Sometimes it’s all people have.

    • I will definitely check that out. Looks interesting.

      Faith is definitely more important than skepticism (totally wins rock-paper-scissors, or faith-skepticism-nonbelief).

      Oddly, I find I am skeptical about this but less so about other things. Not skeptical about God (for a certain specific definition of the word), nor about the afterlife, nor evolution.

      Of course, I may just be wrong/deluded. I’ve been called worse, Lord knows.

      • That book just popped into my head as one discussed during my graduate studies. One of the things it does is look at religion and science as being closely married, then drifting apart, and in some ways, coming back together again.

        Scientists often have more faith than anyone. “The God particle exists!” And so on. Who knows what the Hadron collider will reveal about the mysteries of the self, or of origins, or of God.

        A Descartian perspective, questioning everything is good.

        I need to dig further into theology, etc. Not sure I believe in the Jesuit perspective. But I appreciate the questions they raise.

        I had read the excerpt on TNB on “Angelology.” Yesterday while having lunch with my boys I said, “We have this Bible that’s for man. But it would be cool to write a book about the angels having a Bible too. What would be in it?”

        • Sadly, for all the community service and education, part of the Jesuit mindset seems to be unquestioning devotion to the Church. I think Loyola once said he’d believe black were white if the Church said it was so.

          How did your boys answer your question?

          And I get what you mean about scientists having faith. But then again, I don’t know of any one with knowledge of science who would claim the God particle exists, not in so many terms. Like, if you were to ask me, I’d say the God particle is the Higgs boson predicted to exist by the standard model of quantum mechanics. There’s no evidence of the damned thing yet, no, but all likelihood and deductive reasoning based on the standard model points to its existence, so we’re looking for it. We may never find it. It may not exist. So far, if it does, we’ve never observed it.

          I’m not sure that’s faith, exactly. Like, do I think it exists? Well, the evidence I’ve read indicates it probably should, but so far, since nobody’s actually ever observed or measured it, claiming it actually for certain does seems, to me, foolish.

          Speaking of the God particle, I’m thinking Richard can chime in right here, and hope he does. What do you say, Richard?

        • Richard Cox says:

          Nick, in this case I can speak fairly accurately that any particle physicist worth his salt categorically does not believe the Higgs boson (the God particle) necessarily exists. In most cases they want it to exist, and based on the Standard Model of physics, it very likely should exist (although at what energy level is anyone’s guess). But they also clearly understand that it might not exist, and if it doesn’t, it means there is a glaring and giant weakness in the way we understand quantum physics.

          Leon Lederman coined the term “the God particle” (and I co-opted it for a novel title) as a way to drum up interest in high-energy physics by the lay public and politicians (mainly politicians, who would ultimately fund or not fund the Superconducting Super Collider in Texas). The term itself has nothing to do with spiritual belief, and the faith involved at the LHC is primarily the collective breath-holding of thousands of physicists who don’t want their work to be incorrect, but who should be willing to accept that it very well might be.

          The line “Scientists often have more faith than anyone” could be true, but I would guess that compared to the general population, they are far less frequent users of faith.

        • Richard: You and I probably define faith differently. Anyway, I shouldn’t have collectively judged scientists in the way that I did, because really, no one knows how much faith, if any, is in a man’s heart, scientists or not. And I’m not about to start a poll. lol

          Will: My kids aren’t creative writers. They leave the weird pondering to me.

        • Richard Cox says:

          Ha. Point taken, Nick. And I realize there are different ways to define and understand faith. We all employ faith every day, for instance, in that we get in our cars without first checking the brake lines to make sure they haven’t been cut or developed a leak overnight. We have faith that a bridge is not going to collapse when we drive across it, rather than conducting our own survey each time we plan to drive over it. We go to bed with the faith that the world won’t end while we’re asleep.

          And there are myriad ways to define spiritual faith, of course.

          I place high value on what is important to others, particularly those I care about. If it makes you happy, and it doesn’t hurt anyone, I say go for it. But I’m still confused and amused by what people chose to believe or not believe, and I likely always will be.

        • Anon says:

          “We go to bed with the faith that the world won’t end while we’re asleep.” Speak for yourself, friend. I’ll even admit there have been one or two times in my life that I was disappointed when the sun rose. (;

        • I was going to say, I don’t think the things you mentioned are exactly matters of faith. I mean, sure, we drive without checking brake lines, but what reason would we have to do so? If we saw reason–say a puddle of odd-colored fluid (what color is brake fluid? I assume iridescence like oil)–we’d check them. I don’t really have faith a bridge is not going to collapse; that’s a matter of civil engineering, and I pay taxes I know my state and government uses to employ dudes who can design a bridge so it won’t fall, and then they build it using contractors who know how to use building materials, and then they inspect it to ensure safety. I know there are safeguards that have been checked hundreds of times long before I ever hand over the dollar toll.

          So no, I wouldn’t call either of those things matters of faith.

          I also lack your magnanimity for belief; too often, I think, belief–and especially that of the religious sort–does hurt others. People die because of religion. People are abused because of religion. I’m thinking, in both instances, specifically of Catholicism–the Pope spreading the lie that condoms contribute to AIDS, the various young boys molested by priests–but that’s only because it’s generally the most prevalent, the most in the news, the most embroiled in scandal.

  14. Simone says:

    Very interesting, Will.

    I didn’t have much of a religious childhood, although went to sunday school at a Methodist church when I was around ten years old. My step-mother’s doing. She’s very religious and wouldn’t even read Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, becuase she thought it was ‘satanic’. I kid you not.

    I’ve since let religion do it’s own thing and have become more spiritual instead.

    Almost everyone has questions and wonders about the Bible and what ever pertains to it. Personally I think they should make their own minds up about whether they believe in “an invisible dude in the sky” or not, but as we know some religions tend to force their belief systems onto people who are gullible, naive and not smart enough to know any better.

    Great post, as usual.

    • Thanks, Simone. I think your step-mother is a good example of the problems with religion. It can get in the way of a lot of things for somewhat silly reasons. I mean, “satanic”? I’d wager 90% of religious people don’t actually know much about Satan (and I don’t think he’s at all mentioned in Brown’s book).

      I once read an issue of Parabola that argued against spirituality, that it was cherry-picking the parts of religion that worked and ignoring the “harder” aspects, which I took to be emblematic of precisely what’s wrong with the religious mindset in some ways. It’s like, we all seek answers. Some go about it differently than others, and really, there’s absolutely no real-world evidence any answer is more valid than the others.

      Maybe I’ll be proven wrong. Perhaps I’ll die and find myself before Saint Peter and he’ll tell me, “Er. Sorry. You were good and all, but Christ is the way and the truth and the light and the only way into Heaven is through him and his resurrection, which you were not convinced occurred.”

      Perhaps.

      But I kinda doubt it.

  15. Greg Olear says:

    Nice work, Will. Some quick points:

    The story of the Resurrection and rebirth predates Jesus of Nazareth by some 2000 years. (See “Osiris”)

    The word “Easter” derives from “Astarte,” the Phoenician goddess of fertility. Easter eggs have similar pagan origins.

    Easter is celebrated on Sunday because the church decided to do so many centuries after JC’s death, to honor the day of his (alleged) resurrection.

    The timing of Easter — first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox — is, aside from the Sunday part, pagan to the bone.

    Jesuits are awesome.

    • Becky says:

      Not sure how you get to Osiris being synonymous with *THE* resurrection; what you have in Osiris is *A* story of resurrection (and one quite unlike Jesus’ in the end).

      I’m not saying they’re unrelated (much of near-eastern/mediterranean religion is), but you have to be careful drawing short, straight lines like that. There are more differences between the two stories than there are similarities.

      There are also potential connections, in that there are similarities, between various concepts of the Egyptian god Ra and the Christian trinity, but they are just that. Similarities. If there is a relationship, even a likely relationship, its course/nature has been lost to the game of historical telephone.

      • Richard Cox says:

        If it were only the one instance of similarity, I could see not drawing the connection. But I went down this road with Christmas a while back, with Sol Invictus and Saturnalia, Mithras, etc. Becky can point out, or any believer can and should, that these are matters of faith, so the arguments themselves don’t matter. I always regret commenting during discussions like this because ultimately they fall outside any sort of logical argument.

        Like if this debate were a game of poker, you could never beat a believer because they would always have the winning hand. Faith beats five aces every time.

        Nick pointed out that he knows many God-fearing scientists. There are undoubtedly many. But I must admit, as much as I respect spiritual beliefs of all kinds (including Jedi), it’s hard for me to wrap my mind around how a person who understands the natural world so well can ultimately, in the most important and personal area of their lives, find comfort in believing stories that were conceived well before we knew much about the world, and which appear in many ways to be cobbled together from other, earlier belief systems. I respect their desire and decision to do so. But it baffles me like nothing else does.

        To be clear, I’m not baffled by the belief in a creator, or some other kind of existence that exists apart and above our own. I’m confused specifically by highly-educated people with a background in science that truly believe Abrahamic or other organized religions are the explanation for a possible creator.

        • Becky says:

          I’m not a believer, for the record.

          I am a committed agnostic with a soft spot for metaphysics and the history of the Ancient Near-East.

        • Becky says:

          Well, Richard, to answer the actual substance of your post…about science…it has its limits.

          And those limits are generally connected to human limits. And scientists, more than anyone, understand the limits of science. They are confronted and confounded by them every day.

          Even a scientist is allowed to worry-wonder, when he puts his head down at night, what happens if he doesn’t wake up.

          I mean, at the risk of sounding corny, it’s true. There’s no equation that will yield a satisfactory answer to the question of “why are we here?” The best science can do is say what happens (we think) while we are here. Religion really can’t be beat when it comes to these basic existential questions. It gives people purpose, direction, hope.

          At the end of the day, it’s a psychological comfort. I think scientists are just as entitled to that as anyone else.

        • Richard Cox says:

          I wasn’t sure and didn’t want to comment about the nature of your possible beliefs, but wording that was difficult. I’m glad you clarified.

          The “science has its limits” argument is a valid one when it comes to the whys of our existence, and if you include the entire universe as a whole, even the how. You undoubtedly know more about science than me and understand that as well as anyone.

          Oh, but how the above quoted phrase is misused by the uninformed. Too many believers throw it around not realizing that the scientific method, by its very nature, isn’t equipped to answer why or how a creator made the universe. Uninformed believers often think scientific discoveries are intended by atheists to take the place of faith, which isn’t true at all. Faith and the scientific method are, in my estimation, almost completely incompatible. But the lack of knowledge about science drives fear, and pretty soon someone refuses to believe in evolution because it’s not mentioned in the Bible.

          I understand the desire for psychological comfort. For me, the knowledge that nothing may become of me after I die, sucks but doesn’t affect me in any daily sense. If death is nothing, when it happens I’m not going to know that. I fear dying like most people do, because I don’t want to stop being. I’d love to know that I’ll enjoy some other existence after I die, and while I’m skeptical, I don’t discount the possibility. It’s not logical to completely discount the afterlife any more than it is to definitely accept it.

          My question is aimed at a scientifically-educated person’s belief in a specific religion. As I said before, I understand the desire for comfort. But what makes the religion you were born to believe in the right one? If you’re a religious person in the United States there is an overwhelming likelihood that you are a Christian. If you live on the Indian subcontinent you’re more than likely Hindu or Buddhist. These belief systems and others are bound by different covenants and arguably different creators, and yet among many there is a strong belief that theirs is the true system of belief. Especially among Abrahamic religions. Well, which is it?

          If you understand to some extent the fields of cosmology or biology or geology, etc, you clearly have to make some allowances when it comes to accepting the Word as printed in the Bible or the Qur’an or whatever. You can’t take it all as the truth and make sense of your natural world knowledge and be able to sleep at night (at least not without some amount of delusion). And I wonder, once you begin eliminating certain elements of the belief system, where do you stop?

          And we haven’t even begun to discuss other planets that contain intelligent life, and what their belief systems might be. Ours, if they are true, are awfully Earth-centric. Check out this quote from Wikipedia: “Polls conducted by Gallup in the 1990s has found that 16% of Germans, 18% of Americans and 19% of Britons hold that the Sun revolves around the Earth.” – Source, Steve Crabtree (July 6, 1999). “New Poll Gauges Americans’ General Knowledge Levels”. Gallup. http://www.gallup.com/poll/3742/new-poll-gauges-americans-general-knowledge-levels.aspx.

          Ha.

        • Becky says:

          Well, much of what you’re saying assumes that belief in or adherence to a specific religion necessarily carries with it the belief that all other religions are false. Most thinking religious people are able to negotiate those theological waters without difficulty.

          Even when it comes to average adherents of organized religion–and especially Christianity–there is remarkable diversity of opinion on the topic, depending on to what extent one (or one’s clergy) reads the bible literally (or not so), understands biblical historical context, etc.

          So I don’t think faith and science are incompatible in the least. I think it’s tempting and easy to heap Christian belief under the blanket of this sort of knowledge-fearing stereotype, but I think it’s fundamentally incorrect.

        • Richard Cox says:

          Isaiah 45:18 For thus saith the LORD that created the heavens; God himself that formed the earth and made it; he hath established it, he created it not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited: I am the LORD; and there is none else.

          Isaiah 45:22 Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.

          Isaiah 46:9 Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me,

          Joel 2:27 And ye shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the LORD your God, and none else: and my people shall never be ashamed.

          1 Corinthians 8:6 But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.

          Ephesians 4:5 One Lord, one faith, one baptism.

          Besides, “remarkable diversity” on the topic is exactly my point. No one really knows, so what’s the attraction of any of them? If you are negotiating those theological waters with ease, then what exactly do you believe? Why not allow yourself to believe in a higher power without ascribing it to the specific God of a specific book?

          And I hate making the constant disclaimer, but I am not attacking religious belief. Most everyone I know believes in something, and most of those are Christians. I’m just asking questions to satisfy my own curiosity.

        • I’m sorry. Ahead of time.

          “Most thinking religious people are able to negotiate those theological waters without difficulty.”

          How many religious people are thinking, though? I won’t go so far as to say I think thinking and religious are mutually exclusive, but it comes pretty close, in my book. So far as I’ve generally experience–which may admittedly be limited–religious belief erects a giant wall between worldview and new information.

          This, unfortunately, is where I align with Dawkins et al. mentioned above. I don’t think those guys are right about God and faith, but I do think they’re right about religion.

        • Matt says:

          It’s an intrinsic part of the scientific process that a hypothesis be tested against any and all variables and contradictory data, in perpetuity. When new information comes to light, older theories must be revaluated, and if they no longer hold up, they are discarded, and the process begins again with a new hypothesis.

          This is the categoric opposite of the definition of faith.

          And to my knowledge there isn’t a religion in the world that does this.

        • Becky says:

          That’s not true, Matt.

          Sometimes you just tweak the old hypothesis.

          A LOT of the time, actually. And religion has done this pretty consistently. It can’t not. It’s an institutional product which existing in a dynamic socio-political environment. The notion of it as some kind of dusty relic persisting in a perpetual archaic deep freeze could not be further from the truth. If it did this, it would be discarded because it would cease to be relevant to people’s lives.

          Will, that’s a pretty condescending and really arrogant thing to say. Certainly not a thinking thing to say. I’m deeply curious how many believers we have at this site–perfectly intelligent people–who just watched you say that.

          Richard,

          Because people do what works for them, not for you. Just like you do what works for you, not for them.

          I mean, that’s the simplest answer. Because it’s not up to you. Pithy, I know, but in the end, that’s what it comes down to.

        • Richard Cox says:

          I realize that, Becky. But I remain confused how a “thinking” person, as you put it, doesn’t see the inherent weakness in defining their own belief system and then choosing to live by its covenants. Because even the most fundamental believers are forced to cherry pick. There are too many rules and contradictions and too many situations that don’t apply to modern life.

          I’m tired of talking about this. You outlasted me. You win. Hahahaha.

        • Becky says:

          Because for them, there is no inherent weakness. That’s YOUR thing. YOUR appraisal. That’s what I’m saying.

          No one, in any aspect of his or her life can live without contradiction, without some amount of hypocrisy, at some level or another.

          This is a fundamental reality of being alive, being human.

          So why should personal religious contradiction be any more troubling than any other contradiction? In my opinion, it shouldn’t be. It’s totally arbitrary.

          Naturally, I’m biased and prone to thinking of myself as a thinking person, but a thinking person, I guess, might come to the realization that attempts at and calls to absolutely pure personal integrity are, at the end of the day, disingenuous.

        • I know, Becky. It’s an opinion, and probably a wrong one, but hasn’t a general theme of this comments section been that belief is not about knowledge? Faith is not about evidence?

          Etc.

          Faith isn’t something to be argued into, right? You’d agree there, wouldn’t you? Belief is usually not predicated on reason and logic, is it? So how is thought involved in belief or faith? If you have knowledge of something, you no longer merely believe in it, do you? Like, one wouldn’t say one believes in the sun; it’s there, it exists, we know of it.

          On condescension and arrogance: I’ve found your tone toward me rather condescending throughout the entire discussion, and I find it a little weird to be called arrogant when discussing religion, which basically comes down to “I have this belief based on one book, and I am right. You are wrong. I am saved, and if you don’t agree with me, you are going to Hell.”

          So far as readers of and contributors to this site who are believers . . . probably. The general temperament I’ve noted of people on this site is to be thoughtful and tolerant and somewhat skeptical with regard to matters of religious belief, perhaps more spiritual than anything else. Relaxed and groovy in a spiritual sort of way. I don’t think I’ve seen any Evangelical Christians about, and I haven’t been proselytized to.

        • Matt says:

          Please substantiate this with some examples: “The notion of it as some kind of dusty relic persisting in a perpetual archaic deep freeze could not be further from the truth.”

          The current sex abuse scandal rocking the Catholic church – and more importantly, the church’s response to it – stands in direct contrast to that statement. It’s an ongoing chain of behavior that’s downright medieval.

          For that matter, so did the actions of the various religions who had a hand in driving the anti-gay/Prop 8 progaganda here in California during the 2008 campaign (the biggest financial contributors were the Catholic and the Mormon churches).

          Religion – more specifically, those who derive their authority from it, be they king, pope, monk or town preacher – put a great deal of work into keeping people’s lives relevant to it, not the other way around, and one of the principle methods of doing so is to punish those who question or challenge it. Because once that religion loses it’s relevance, so does their authority.

          If I have a working theory which seems to be on firm ground for several years until some new discovery invalidates it in part or in whole, you’re right: I have to go back to my original hypothesis and either tweak it or toss it. But if I just tweak it, I still have to test it again; I just can’t take it as a proven given that it will lead to something similar to my previous theory – or worse, simply discount the new data just because it contradicts the conclusions I’ve already come to. Which is what, by and large, religion does – and what those who misunderstand science assume it does as well.

          Sure, there are sloppy scientists, just as there are progressive religious leaders and denominations. But those don’t constitute the majority. When was the last time a group of religious leaders went through the Bible, Qu’aran et al. to revise and update the content because it was no longer relevant or correct in light of newly discovered information or understanding?

          I’m by no means the expert on this, but my understanding is those who’ve tried *usually* end up jailed, beheaded, burned alive, excommunicated, exiled, fed to wild animals etc.

          This is not how one fosters greater knowledge or understanding. It is how one stymies it.

        • “Because for them, there is no inherent weakness. That’s YOUR thing. YOUR appraisal. That’s what I’m saying.”

          I wonder if this is the problem, here. This notion that, for some, there is no inherent weakness, when really it’s more that most adherents of the religious belief either don’t see it or refuse to acknowledge it.

          The weakness is that there are a lot of holes in the account as so far gathered. That’s pretty inherent, and just because people don’t acknowledge the weaknesses are there doesn’t mean that weakness does not exist. I didn’t make the account as so far recorded weak. I didn’t see the events in question and leave an incomplete collection of data based on mostly on hearsay and without eyewitness testimony.

          So it’s not really my thing, or anyone else’s. It’s just something I and others note about the data.

          Do you think there’s adequate evidence to corroborate the factuality of the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, Becky?

        • Becky says:

          If I could get my sister over here, I would suggest you ask her, since they’re giving her a PhD for thinking about it.

          Mostly, if you’re thinking about your faith or other people’s faith, you think about philosophy (which has, as its primary rhetorical structure, prepositional logic), ethics, epistemology, cosmology, history, etc.

          But that’s not just for theologians. Anyone who has had to, for example, reconcile their belief with their desire not to belittle the beliefs of others has had to think about it, likely in ethical terms, potentially theological ones. Probably run into some prepositional logic.

          Anyone who ever questioned his or her faith probably dabbled, whether they realized it or not, in epistemology, the study of knowledge and “how we know what we know.”

          I don’t think that faith is necessarily illogical. I think it’s a perfectly logical thing, for example, to believe in something if it makes you happy to believe in it.

          “I have this belief based on one book, and I am right. You are wrong. I am saved, and if you don’t agree with me, you are going to Hell.”

          You don’t think this is a bit of an oversimplication and generalization? For my part, I have NEVER had a Christian person say this to me. Preacher, plebe, or otherwise. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t Catholic.

          I’m not going to apologize for telling you what I thought of your comment. It’s not kind or reasonable or any of these things you otherwise seem to advocate to call people stupid and/or unthinking just for what they believe in. If you really think that, you’re not doing too much better tolerance-wise than your hellfire preacher from the quote above.

        • Matt says:

          I’ve had those near-exact words said to me more than once, in multiple different cities and states.

          Openly being an atheist seems to invite that sort of thing.

        • I never called anyone stupid.

          And, like Matt, yes, I’ve had pretty much that exact thing said to me. Countless times. The entire basis of Christianity is either you believe in Jesus as the Christ and savior, and that he died for the sins and was resurrected and on the third day rose again in fulfillment of the Scriptures,

          Or you go to Hell.

          The epistemology is what this is all about. How do we know what Jesus looked like? How do we know he rose from the dead? How do we know he existed in the first place?

        • Richard Cox says:

          I’ve always felt like the reverse were true, that Protestants were more evangelical than your typical Catholic. Though that’s probably based more on where I live and also anecdotal evidence.

          For instance, a while back, when she was still alive, a co-worker told me that my Catholic grandmother, who attended mass and prayer services almost seven days a week for more years than I can count, and who was the most pious and devout woman I have ever known, wouldn’t be admitted to heaven unless she said some kind of Jesus Is My Savior Christian Admittance Prayer. Whatever that thing is. I’m too tired to Google it. Believing in God wasn’t enough. You had to specifically say this one prayer and accept Jesus.

          Another time I attended a small wedding in a Protestant something-or-other church, and at the end, the pastor invited the wedding party and everyone in the congregation to follow him in a special prayer. And it turned out to be that Admittance Prayer! I don’t blindly follow along in prayer when I’m in a church, so I didn’t say it (like it even matters…words aren’t faith), but afterward the groom comes up to me and says “Did you say that prayer?” And I say no. And he says, “Well, if you had you would have been saved! The pastor always does that. He’s sneaky that way.”

          Of course those are just anecdotes. It doesn’t draw a picture of Christianity or religion as a whole. One interesting thing I will note is that, for me, in Catholicism, Jesus was just one part of the Holy Trinity, and we valued all three equally. Whereas, in my estimation, Protestants and particularly evangelical Christians really get it on for Jesus. It’s far different than the way I learned about Christianity.

          Then again, Catholics hold Mary in high regard and Protestants seem to hate that.

        • Matt says:

          Oh, and faith, by definition, is illogical: a stong belief in something with minimal-to-no evidence, or even in face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. To quote Bertrand Russell, “Where there is evidence, no one speaks of ‘faith’. We do not speak of faith that two and two are four or that the earth is round. We only speak of faith when we wish to substitute emotion for evidence.”

        • Matt says:

          Yeesh. I cannot fucking spell and/or type today. Jeebus protect me.

        • Yeah, Richard, I think my experiences align with yours. My grandmother was deeply Catholic, and my father converted from Lutheranism to marry my mother. But I went to Lutheran services a few times, and they weren’t much different from their Catholic counterparts.

          My experience is, admittedly, probably also skewed; my brother is an Evangelical Christian. We don’t discuss these sorts of matters for very obvious reasons. For years, he thought, and told me, I was going to Hell. I don’t know if he still does because, as I said, we don’t discuss those things. But it’s worth noting, too, that part of my experience of religion has been shaped by being so extraordinarily close to it. I’ve seen my brother gather with his friends to “praise.” I’ve seen them “witness.” One of his friends, years ago, used to “speak in tongues” at services. They fully believed it was divine inspiration, that he’d been moved by the Spirit I say Hallelujah can I get an Amen my Brother!

          Of course I don’t take a simple approach to the belief, which is not universal. I know it has various shades. But I’ve known many people who believe in that binary choice.

          I guess it’s nice to live so simple an existence as that, so free of nuance and choice. There’s really no dilemma when faced with a choice like that, if you really believe the stories and all.

          And thanks Matt. I think that was the quote I was thinking of, in fact.

        • Anon says:

          Richard, your “sneaky converter” story reminds me of my wife’s family. We were both raised Catholic and have since abandoned organized religion. Neither of our children are or will be baptized. When we had the families over to celebrate our daughter’s birth, my aunt-in-law – a militantly devout Catholic – tried to prevail upon me to change my mind “just in case”. I loved that. This was followed by the persuasive argument that “it doesn’t hurt”. But the clincher was “Just do it and then none of you ever have to go back again!”

          Ha-ha! Fooled you, God! I can’t believe you fell for that! Sigh. This is a personal anecdote, btw, not any type of indictment of a particular faith.

          Matt, I’ve had the pleasure of confusing a surprising number of people by declaring that my wife and I are “very devout Apathists and plan to raise our children in our faith”. For some reason, a significant portion of that surprised population seemed to think that was a flavor of Baptist. Not sure why or if that means anything.

        • Matt says:

          HAH! “Devout apathist.” That’s awesome! I’m going to have to remember that one!

        • Becky says:

          Charismatics are usually the ones who speak in tongues. Or they used to be the ones. With the shouting and the waving hands.

          My sister did it for a while. Flirted with a church that was like that briefly after she finished college. She is not an evangelical. At least not in the way you mean it–the way that has simply come to mean “loony” in contemporary political discourse.

          Part of it, that speaking in tongues thing, at least at the church she went to, had a meditative function. Not entirely unlike mantras. It actually is not all that weird, as far as religions go. At least not in the way I experienced it. People just pacing or sitting in the church gym, talking to themselves. Truly, not totally unlike some eastern practices.

          I grew up Lutheran, ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church of America) synod, which is the liberal synod of the three main ones in the country (again, “evangelical” is a technical term here, and is unrelated to the increasingly pejorative political term). Will, your experience at a Lutheran church would differ depending on what synod the church you went to belonged to. Indeed Catholics and Lutherans have a fair amount in common, but there are some important theological subtleties that seem to make all the difference–“not by works alone” is a huge one. It effectively strips the hellfire out of everything. At least in the ELCA. There’s just WAY less shame and way less fear in protestantism, in my experience.

          More and more I feel like–and I hope I won’t be jumped for saying so–my friends who are really, REALLY (like, “woah”) disillusioned with and angry at religion are overwhelmingly Catholic (or, rather, raised Catholic). I suspect that there are some doctrinal reasons for this, but there has been a marked uptick in recent years, and I wonder to what degree the Church’s bad press in the last decade or so has created feelings of confusion, betrayal, and/or embarrassment for people…like to what extent this is a reaction to that. Sort of a punitive reaction to a personal wound. I know we all like to pretend it’s just our science and big brains and logic that cause us to question religion, but for those of us who grew up in a church, it ends up being a big part of your life, your formative years..ultimately your identity. To be attached to an institution with so many yucky things going on is bound to create resentment.

        • Matt says:

          Dammit, I hit “post” before I was done!

          Anon – yeah, I’ve encountered that “do it once and you never have to again” approach before. See, I was in San Francisco and wandered into the Castro without knowing what I was doing, looking for good place to have a drink…

          Seriously though, I’ve never understood that argument. God is supposed to be all powerful and all knowing, yet somehow I can trick him by just going through the motions. Like, if I did, and am saved and make it up to Heaven and all that, he won’t just boot right out of there once I proclaim “Hey, God! Sure fooled you, didn’t I?!”

        • Becky says:

          You’re right, Matt. When one is talking about things secular and scientific, “faith” rarely surfaces. “Trust” is the preferred term.

        • Becky says:

          Matt (again), also a somewhat Catholic phenomenon. Extant elsewhere, but much less pronounced. It is at least partially related to the Catholic “works alone” reading of salvation. When motions are what get you into heaven, going through them is important.

          This is not necessarily a feature of all brands of Christianity. Like, I wonder, as we’re all sitting here, whether any of us are actually talking about Christianity. I’m increasingly getting the feeling that most of you are talking about Catholicism, and I am talking about Protestantism.

        • As far as religions go, I’m not sure anything’s ever actually all that weird. Women from ribs, boats with two species, burning bushes . . . gibberish mantras seem like one of the more sane traditions.

          And I can definitely speak to the Catholic point. I was so Catholic I was an altar boy. I was confirmed, even. I’m not sure it’s exactly resentment or a reaction to a personal wound, though if you noted I might be too close to be able to admit those things, I’m not sure you’d be wrong. What I do know is what I noted in the essay; that the very act of asking questions came, to me, as something of an epiphany.

          I will also note that part of it may be the fact that I might be scared that, had I never broken from it, there are a lot of things I never would have learned. I love science. I’m fascinated by it. I’m a Discovery channel junkie, and Life may be my favorite series in years (besides, of course, House and Supernatural). And part of my resentment toward religion in general and the Catholic church in particular comes with their telling me that science is wrong.

          I worked hard to study genetics and biology and chemistry and physics. I worked hard to understand those subjects and achieve decently good (though rarely great) marks in them.

          And to have someone tell me that what I have studied is wrong? Based on their little book?

          Yeah, there’s absolutely some resentment there. It used to be stuff like punishing Galileo for his new knowledge, but now the Pope is outright spreading lies like that condoms increase the spread of AIDS.

          My brother seems to have had a similar experience as your sister; he got deep into fundamental Christianity for several years, right around college. Lately he’s tempered a bit, at least to the degree that we can talk to each other, and have a basically good relationship. Not the sort we had when we were kids, but then again, we were both Catholics. Maybe we both just personally know better nowadays. I know he believes in a six-day Creation, though. Literally. Less than a week.

          I boggle.

        • Simon Smithson says:

          RE: ‘Just pretend to have faith’ – is that the Archbishop’s Wager? Is that what that’s called?

          There’s a parallel scenario in a Terry Pratchett book (set in a polytheistic world) about a bishop who makes the same argument – just have faith! If God is real, you’ve won! If he isn’t, well, you’ve lost nothing but you’ve hedged your bets.

          I believe the quote goes something like ‘After his death, he awoke in the middle of a circle of gods holding nasty-looking sticks, one of whom said ‘Right. We’re going to show you what we think of Mr. Clever Ideas round these parts…’

        • Richard Cox says:

          I wouldn’t doubt what you say about the negative press Catholicism has been receiving. For me, personally, I was straying at a young age. Like that post I wrote about Santa Claus, religion and God just couldn’t pass a basic logic test. I was maybe 13 or 14 when I really started doubting and by 17 I was almost gone. The only real resentment I felt, to be honest, was being forced to go to mass when I wanted to stay home and watch the Dallas Cowboys play.

          These days, though our debate today was sometimes energetic, I’m pretty calm and easygoing when it comes to religion. That wasn’t the case in my 20s, when I moved to Tulsa and became surrounded by so many Born Again Christians. I have many good friends who are Born Again, but I also was somehow turned off by a lot of the less savory behavior.

          If I had to go back, like if it were mandatory, I’d either be Jewish or Catholic. For me the whole “Catholic guilt” thing, or the more recent scandals, don’t have an effect on my feelings. And who can be surprised by what some priests have done, however horrible it is? You ask a man to subvert his most primal and powerful urge for his entire life, what do you think is going to happen?

          If you want to know the truth, I recently pulled back from pure atheism. If I had to put down money on any belief system, I would say (I know this isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned it) that the world really is a simulation and “God” is the guy playing it. Which, from a philosophical point of view, isn’t that different than the religious beliefs I’ve been arguing against. It’s closer to Gnosticism, but in any case, I can totally see the universe being the whim of some bored kid with a computer.

          For me it makes a lot more sense to me than God being all powerful and creating a universe where he already knows everything that will happen, where it’s (philosophically) already decided when a person is born whether he will end up in Heaven or Hell. In a universe with an all-powerful, all-knowing God, one who judges his followers on actions he knows they will eventually do, the whole setup amounts to nothing more than pointless tests which a believer cannot himself choose to pass or fail, eighty or so years of trying to live the right way to earn an eternity of bliss.

          Whereas in the simulated world, the “Guy” as I call him, is a flawed creator. He made the world but he didn’t do it very well. Which is why you can have a God and still have murder and mayhem and tsunamis and genocide. Again, the flawed creator and the simulated world are both related to Gnosticism, which I came to by way of Philip K Dick, and I know this is off the subject, but again, introduction to these ideas actually made me stop being an atheist.

          So I’ve just undone most of the arguments I presented today, but I will say I’m only lukewarm to the idea of the “Guy” rather than attending Gnostic worship events every week.

        • Becky says:

          She was never a fundamentalist. She was checking out her options, as most people do at that age. And at this point, she is an academic. She listens to the White Stripes and The Clash, and teaches undergraduate religion courses and cracks jokes about Plato’s Republic. She’s perfectly normal. Or at least as normal as an academic can be.

          That’s what I mean.

          You’ve got all these tidy little boxes you want to stuff everything into.

        • Richard Cox says:

          Becky, one last thing I forgot to mention, what bugged me the most about non-Catholics was the idea of being born again. As if you could simply erase whatever past terrible deeds you had bestowed upon the world simply because you apologized and took Jesus as your Savior.

          I realize Catholics do something similar with confession, but there you have to at least work for forgiveness by doing penance. To quote Dennis Miller, being born again is like using ecclesiastical white-out. I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to lie and cheat and steal and murder! I accept Jesus! I’m forgiven!

          I know you have to do more than just declare yourself a Christian. You have to live it. But there are certain sins I’m not okay with forgiving. Unprovoked murder as an example. I don’t care how much you’re sorry. You took a human life and if there is a heaven you shouldn’t be allowed in.

          This is why Jesus, if he existed, was far more awesome than I will ever be.

        • Becky says:

          Richard, predetermination is not a Christian thing, I mean, overall. I don’t know enough about Catholicism to say if it’s a Catholic thing, but I know it was a prominent feature of some of the various Puritan beliefs in America.

          It is not a tenet of Lutheranism.

        • Richard Cox says:

          Well, he’s either all-powerful or he’s not. How does that work in Lutheranism?

          I don’t go for the “he’s all powerful but you still have free will” argument. He either knows or he doesn’t know. And if he doesn’t, there are limits to his power, which I have never heard one Christian of any denomination ever admit.

          But again, I haven’t studied theology, so I’m operating purely from experience.

        • Er. I wasn’t putting your sister in a box. You said she had flirted with fundamentalism, briefly, after she finished college, before she started academia. My brother flirted with fundamentalism, if for several years, before he equalized into something a little more moderate than his former beliefs. I mean, okay, maybe he got deep while she flirted (and why does this suddenly sound so sexual), but I hadn’t meant to imply your sister was fundamentalist beyond her flirtation with it back when.

        • Becky says:

          Are most born again Christians cold-blooded killers? If so, I was not aware of it.

          I thought mostly they were ex drunks, drug addicts, fornicators and the like. People with shady pasts or who otherwise were not happy with who they were, trying to put a little mark on the timeline of their lives where they can say, “From here on out, I am going to be a better person.”

          I don’t see anything wrong with this, really. And of course, you’re usually only born again once, whereas if you’re catholic, you can just go right on misbehaving indefinitely for the price of a few hail marys. Maybe an indulgence.

          It’s that damn “works” thing again.

        • Becky says:

          I never said any such thing! I said she went to a charismatic church! That has nothing to do with fundamentalism, at least not necessarily.

          This is it exactly. You knew my sister spoke in tongues, so you just shoved her in a box with your fundamentalist brother because he did too.

          The Charismatic Movement affected a wide range of different denominations, some more conservative, some more liberal. It is primarily a style of worship that emphasizes outward manifestations of the holy spirit rather than a purely internal spiritual experience. It has nothing to do with broad-spectrum theology, though some denominations are more prone to it than others.

        • Richard Cox says:

          Good point on Catholics being able to confess and confess again. In the end, neither way works for me. I was just pointing out that it’s not Catholicism that did me in. In fact, since I would be either Catholic or Jewish, I guess I’m calling myself old school. Haha.

          If it’s not too private, Becky, what moved you from Lutheranism to becoming agnostic?

        • Becky says:

          Richard, these are the kinds of minutae that I can’t speak authoritatively on.

          In a general sense, he’s all-knowing, all-powerful, but humans still have free will. How the mechanics of it go, I couldn’t tell you.

          But since you’ve already dismissed it as unacceptable out of hand, I’ll assume that you’re not interested in my finding out.

          It is true that it is one of the trickier theological aspects of most religions, but particularly Abrahamic ones.

        • Becky says:

          Honestly, Richard, I didn’t like being told what to do.

          I mean, that’s the simplest answer. I started refusing to go to Church when I was about 15. No big trauma, no life-changing event. I just couldn’t say that I was positive there was a God. So going to church was disingenuous.

        • Okay, I’m sorry. I’ve never encountered charismatic worship outside of fundamentalist Christianity. So that was my fault. But I’m not in general one to employ boxes. Exception, not rule.

          I have no problem with people marking a day or point in their lives from which to start being good. Never said I did. Would that everyone did so. Of course, what’s “good”?

          I worry about judgment, though.

        • Becky says:

          That comment was directed at Richard re: Born-Again Christians.

          This is all getting very confusing. Trying to keep track of who I’m talking to.

        • Richard Cox says:

          It’s funny to have a debate like this Becky because it sounds like the changing of our minds was pretty similar. I didn’t step away from church overnight either. And Lutheranism is about as Catholic as you can get with out being Catholic. I mean, on the continuum it’s the closest thing, right?

          Also, I don’t consider the free will business minutiae. To me that’s a core concept, and it’s the thing that most confuses me now. At least in the simulation argument, the outcome in in question. With Christianity it seems like pointless determinism.

          This is what my next novel is about, so discussing this hits very close to home. Except in my book I start with an ant farm metaphor. I wrote a few blogs about this on MySpace back in the day, and whenever it comes out, Becky, you are going to be three books behind instead of two.

        • Becky says:

          Okay, last one of the day, since I missed Matt’s comment earlier RE: the “dusty relic.”

          First of all, Matt, you’re talking primarily about the Catholic church. The Catholic church is not all religion or even all Christendom. So if you want to complain about their particular doctrines or policies for offending your politics, that’s fine, but don’t try to pretend they are the President of Christians. It’s just not so.

          The Episcopalian church and some other churches within other denominations allow openly gay ministers, for example.

          The Vatican acknowledges evolution. There’s a Catholic example. I mean, the list is endless.

          If you think these things were always this way, think again.

          Religions are always changing. Always. I don’t know why you continue to labor under this notion that they and they alone are able to somehow defy all the apparent laws pertaining to social and cultural institutions. It doesn’t take more than a brief study of the history of religion to see that the story of religion is all about change. Usually the change is in response to politics. In the big view, the overwhelming rule is that religion bends both to direct political pressure and the will of its adherents, whose wants and wills change like any other peoples’ as a function of the socio-cultural circumstances they experience. If religion does not bend, it fractures. The Catholic church learned that the hard way with Martin Luther and the rise of protestantism. And Luther was a priest. A monk. So the change came from WITHIN in that instance. It is a delicate balance between changing enough to stay relevant and making yourself APPEAR to be holding your theological ground, but in the end, zeitgeist always prevails.

        • Becky says:

          Nope. The closest you can get to Catholicism is the Church of England.

          And though the differences between Lutheranism and Catholicism seem subtle, the implications, as I said earlier, are absolutely huge.

          No Virgin Mary (except when she gives birth to Jesus at Christmastime), no Saints, no confession, no weekly communion, no “by works alone” no rosaries, no penance, no Jesus on the crosses in the church, no transubstantiation. That’s a big one.

          I mean, in seriousness, it adds up. Much of the service would certainly be familiar to a Catholic, the organization, the apostle’s creed, the lords prayer, etc., but similarities are all very surface level. You don’t have to dig too far to figure out why protestants were called heretics.

          Free will is not minutae. I said it was a big theological issue. What is minutae are the theological details about how a given religion or denomination grapples with it.

          Like, no doubt there are voluminous tedious articles about the technicalities of having both free will and an omnipotent God, full of references to obscure theological figures and philosophers. That is minutae. The outcome of it is not.

        • Becky says:

          And how could I forget: Female pastors. Married pastors. Pastors with children.

          That’s one surface-level thing that Catholics would notice immediately.

          My husband and I got married in my parents’ church, by a woman. A married woman. My husband’s Catholic family was not impressed.

        • Oh, and Simon’s comment, right there? First, Pratchett is a genius writer. I wish for his comic timing. Amazing. So sad about his Alzheimer’s.

          And I know I’ve read the book you mention. Might’ve been Small Gods? Something like that?

          I think the wager might have been Pascal’s? I’m too tired to Google it.

          Nothing like hedging one’s bets!

        • Simon Smithson says:

          Yep, that’s the one – Pascal’s Wager.

      • Greg Olear says:

        The thing is, Becky, I was at the meeting when Saul — he wanted us to call him Paul after his travels to Damascus, but his mother named him Saul, so Saul it is — proposed the idea of co-opting the Osiris story to make the new religion more attractive to pagans.

        Actually, I was the one who proposed it; Saul said, “OK, but only if we take out the part about women being equal to men…that don’t fly. Also, we should make all the dudes get circumcised, except for me, because, I mean, that hurts.”

        And what do you know? It worked.

        (I am Melchizedek, in case you were wondering.)

        In seriousness, I think your analogy of historical telephone is apt.

        • Becky says:

          In my wildest, wildest fantasies, I’m able to see all those connections clearly and all at once. The whole leviathan of human history. Or shit. I’d settle for the leviathan of Christian history, but that would probably lead me to the beginning of time anyway.

          Anyway, whenever I think I might be close (I get SOOO close, I swear!), some aspect slips off the edge of the table and just out of sight. Or the middle starts to dribble out a gap in the slats. Or I go blind in one eye.

          Pisses me off.

          GIVE ME THE METANARRATIVE!

        • Can I just note, here, concerning historical telelphone:

          We’re talking about whisper down the lane, right? One person says something, who says it to the next person, to the next, and so on, until it gets to the last person, at which point the phrase spoken bears no resemblance beyond, possibly, rhythmic/rhyming to the original?

          I mean, couldn’t that be what happened here? We start with a story of a man. Who existed. That’s pretty reasonable. And then, as his story was told, the early guys telling it added stuff to it. Things like, you know, a virgin birth. And a resurrection.

          Or maybe somebody just misheard “insurrection.” Isn’t that possible? (I know, they’d be speaking Aramaic, Greek, or Hebrew, but I think the overall point remains.)

        • Greg Olear says:

          I think the closest thing to what really happened is told in Life of Brian. “Follow the gourd!”

        • Becky says:

          Is it possible? Of course it’s possible.

          So where does that get you?

          Nowhere.

        • If it’s possible, we’re admitting the possibility that the resurrection might not have occurred as recorded. In all of basically two sources.

        • Becky says:

          Sounds to me like you are announcing your arrival in the exact same place you started from.

          Congratulations?

        • Thanks! But I’ve kinda been here all along, I thought. Didn’t realize I was in motion, at any rate.

      • Osiris’ resurrection story might have been unlike Jesus’, but the greater point is that they were two of many, all of the others of which are now acknowledged as never having occurred? Jesus’ is now singular in that many treat it as historical fact.

        • Becky says:

          I don’t think that was Greg’s greater point, but since it is yours, I will point out that it is most certainly NOT singular.

          Mohammed is treated as fact. Buddha and the reincarnation of souls is treated as fact. It is treated as a fact that Shiva or Kali did this or that and because of all those things, humans should do this or that.

          That’s what religion is. Belief that things did happen and do happen that justify your adherence to the tenets and rituals of a given doctrine. That’s what faith IS, Will.

        • I think you misread me there, Becky. I put the apostrophe on the end of Jesus there to refer to his resurrection, not his life. If we want to talk about things we treat as facts, I treat both the life and death of Jesus as fact but not his resurrection.

          So far as I know, there aren’t crucifixion/resurrection stories of either Siddhartha Guatama or Muhammad.

          So far as reincarnation, we’d have to define what we mean there before determining whether it’s factual.

        • Becky says:

          Mohammed rode to heaven on a winged horse.

          That is treated as fact.

          Singling out Christianity is not going to work. I mean, I’m just telling you that right now. All religions are like this.

        • Adequately discussing the evidential problems of all religions and aspects thereof was beyond the scope of this essay, especially given that we’re supposed to stick under a couple thousand words.

          And did he? I thought he was buried in Medina.

          But again: why is it treated as fact? How many winged horses have ever existed? Is there evidence of his having done so? Did someone preserve the horse?

          But yes, except for spatial reasons, believe me, I’m not singling Christianity out.

        • Becky says:

          Not when he died.

          He flew up there to receive the Quran, I believe. Try looking up “The Night Flight.”

          My knowledge of Islam is scattershot.

        • If I told you I had taken a Pegasus up the World Trade Center to receive The Prodigal Hour, would you accept that?

          Then again, Muhammad is another case where I’m convinced he existed but find the evidence he rode a winged horse rather lacking.

          Because so far as I know, such a beast does not and has never existed in the history of Earthly creatures. I mean, if you told me he rode a winged lizard up a tree, where he wrote the Quran, I’d say, okay, that sounds possible, if not entirely plausible.

        • Becky says:

          Well, no I wouldn’t believe you, just like I don’t believe Mohammed rode a peagasus (at least not in the literal sense. If you want to start speaking figuratively, that’s where things turn a bit gray).

          Then again, I’m not Muslim. Why WOULD I believe that?

          This line of questioning would probably be more effective against a believer.

        • So you don’t think Muhammad rode a Pegasus, but Muslims do. Is there a third option here?

          Somebody’s got to be wrong, no?

        • Becky says:

          All depends on what you mean by “rode a pegasus.”

          Probably, if we’re talking literally, he either did or he didn’t.

          It’s anyone’s guess. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t actually matter. I certainly don’t care if he did or not.

      • This is gonna be so far from the original comment it’s gonna require a lot of scrolling, but your point there, Becky, about potential connections between the Egyptian god Ra and the Christian trinity is that no one treats Ra as factual anymore. The problem, as I see it, is that Ra, Osiris, Zeus, and Baldur are treated as mythology whereas the story of the resurrection is treated as factual.

        This different treatment seems rather arbitrary to me.

        Then again, maybe religion has a form of natural selection just like life and evolution do. Like, if I tell a zealous Christian I’m not convinced by the resurrection narrative, and that zealous Christian kills me, the story survives intact. Hence the Crusades? Substitute any zealous belief there for “Christian” as well, probably.

        • (I should rephrase. That’s not your point, of course. I’m not reading it as such. I meant “The problem with making the point about Ra.” Sorry.)

        • Becky says:

          It seems fairly apparent to me that overall, the crusades did a rather poor job of eliminating the competition.

          The prevalence of Christianity as a worldwide religion is almost entirely attributable to one man and one man alone. Not Jesus. Constantine.

          The Empire already existed. The religion was just inserted into it.

          And as for Egypt, I think you’ll want to look to Muslims on that account–except for the small Coptic demographic.

        • Cannot. Resist: “Istanbul not Constantinople!”

          Ha!

          “The Empire already existed. The religion was just inserted into it.”

          That’s generally my take on Jesus. The man existed; the resurrection was just inserted into his story.

          It may be wrong. I may be crazy.

        • Anon says:

          “The Empire already existed. The religion was just inserted into it.”

          Becky, this is a point I have often made with some of my more devout and literal friends. There is a pretty common misconception that the Roman Empire converted to Christianity. This is entirely untrue. Christianity was converted to Roman Imperialism.

          I am deathly afraid of turning this into another politicial discussion (: but this was another classic (or Classical) case of the powers-that-be co-opting a popular trend (in this case, the spread of this “new-fangled cult”) to preserve their waning influence and control.

        • Becky says:

          Well, that’s the rub.

          We have no way to know how, why, when, by whom, or even if an insertion was made.

          So you have two choices: Either you believe it or you don’t.

          Faith.

        • Becky says:

          Anon, I think it has to do with carelessness in language more than anything. The Roman Empire did, in a way, convert, at least insofar as they were no longer officially pagan and the legacy of the Empire–Western Culture–is no longer predominantly pagan, but I think that nugget of truth is ripe for misinterpretation.

        • My choice is to remove belief from the equation, examine the evidence of the situation, and draw from it a reasonable conclusion. I find the evidence lacking, and so far, my conclusion is incomplete, at least in terms we are discussing here.

          The process is this: we have a story of a man who rose from the dead, but the sources for that account do not seem credible for reason of citation, evidence, and data. Of four sources, three have some similarities but also seem based on either each other or another document, while the fourth comes out of left field and includes data that conflicts with the record of the others.

          I cannot draw a reasonable conclusion from the evidence presented and the observations made. I am not saying it’s impossible it occurred, just that the extant record fails to adequately substantiate it.

        • Becky says:

          Okay, so you choose “undecided.” My mistake. I guess that is an option, too.

        • Heh. Didn’t you just criticize me up above for oversimplification, Pot?

        • Becky says:

          That is what you are, though, isn’t it? Undecided? Am I wrong?

        • I wouldn’t characterize it as such. I find the evidence insufficient to form an accurate conclusion, which I feel is a bit more committed than “undecided.”

          Probably because “undecided,” to me, is still a major freshmen declare. I mean, I know it’s more than that, but I think of it like, well, there are so many options, I don’t know what to choose, so I’m just going to feel out a few and see where it takes me.

          I think my biggest problem with “undecided” is that it’s not like I don’t want to decide! I want more evidence! Give me more data! I will be happy to be convinced! Either way!

        • Becky says:

          Well, there doesn’t appear to be more evidence, but I’m not sure how much of existing evidence you’re actually familiar with, so maybe there IS more evidence as far as you’re concerned.

          Even if you knew it all, though, in the end there are mostly various interpretations of existing evidence whose relative success of persuasion depend largely on what one already thinks and/or believes (new evidence trickles in from time to time, but nothing too earth-shattering).

          But you do work in higher ed.

          If you actually want to know, I would recommend taking some classes in religious history/studies, 1st and 2nd century history of the Ancient Near East and Mediterranean, etc.

        • Becky says:

          I suppose 1st and 2nd century are no longer ancient. But in antiquity is where some of the context for the tradition of those regional religions co-opting eachother’s traditions, gods, etc. begins, so that might be useful to you, too.

        • I’m not sure about there not appearing to be more evidence. Who knows what we’ll find in jars of clay hidden in caves?

          I’m also not sure what my working in higher ed has to do with my desire to learn more. And of course I “actually” do.

        • Becky says:

          Will, until those jars appear, we won’t have the appearance of new evidence, will we?
          Hence, there does not APPEAR to be more evidence. Jesus, dude. The semantic nitpicking is a bit much. I take it as a sign that we are done here.

          Your work in higher ed means you have more convenient access to classes than most. That’s its relationship to learning more.

        • You’re calling out my “semantic nitpicking”? Really?

          New jars aren’t the only possibility. I could be having a discussion much like this one, and someone might mention a book I haven’t read yet (already there have been mention of two), which I will in turn seek out to accumulate more information.

        • Becky says:

          Well, I guess I was confused, then, because I thought I pretty much covered that when I said:

          “I’m not sure how much of existing evidence you’re actually familiar with, so maybe there IS more evidence as far as you’re concerned.”

          The point is, Will, the argument is no longer about the topic at hand.

          It has played itself out.

        • I didn’t realize it was an argument. Just thought it was a discussion.

    • Thanks Greg. And I wanted to address some of the Pagan origins but it was already getting long. I could have easily done another several thousand words on that stuff alone. One day, I will, though maybe not here.

      It’s not just Osiris. A guy nailed to a tree who died by way of spear piercing and three days later came back to life? Nearly all the myth systems of the time had such a deity. Besides Osiris, there was also the Norse Baldur (son of Odin).

      It’s also worth noting that Easter isn’t just Pagan to the bone; it’s a fertility festival. Hence the eggs and the bunnies, both of which are symbolic of sex. People are supposed to be shagging like crazy. In fact, the fertility festival was usually overseen by a god who died and was resurrected to eternal life, which is what sex and procreation and spring provide for the world.

      • Matt says:

        Seems as good a time to drop in the comment that’s been sitting in my brain as I’ve been reading this.

        The Pagan connection to Easter, and the (in my experience) frequent Christian denial of it, always confounded me. I mean, the word “Easter” is a modern pronunciation of the Old English/Germanic name of the pagan fertility goddess the day used to celebrate! (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C4%92ostre) (Eostre is also the root of several fertility-related words such as estrus and menstruation)

        Hell, the word “blessing” is of pagan origin is well; it’s descended from the Indo-European word “bleodosian,” which meant to be sprinkled with blood during a ritual sacrifice.

        But when I mention these connections to my Christian friends, they treat me like I’m making it up to mock or screw with them….it’s as if all of the rituals and beliefs they adhere to while observing their faith somehow sprung up in a vacuum, prompted only by divine inspiration.
        Some of them even respond with open fear and/or hostility when I bring it up.

        Religions change as they spread, either co-opting or destroying the belief systems held by the people living in those regions. There are some substantial differences between, say, the Catholicism practiced in Mexico and that practiced in Ireland, stemming largely from the fusion between the church and differing folk beliefs held in those areas. I would think (as, admittedly, an atheist) that following and understanding this development would strengthen an appreciation for the religion, not negate it.

        Okay, I can think of a cynical reason to deny such a connection, but that’s not the kind of mood I’m in, and not what your post was about.

        • Becky says:

          But isn’t this more of a study in the etymology of English than anything else? Obviously, the earliest Christians did not speak English, did not use the word blessing or Easter, etc. Christians worldwide don’t use the word, just like they don’t all use “Christmas.”

          That is, beyond your friends’ perceptions, I’m not sure what these words have to do, at a fundamental level, with an invalidation of Christianity. You might consider mentioning that to your friends to calm them down.

        • Well, I think the point is not the language from which the rituals derived but rather the customs. If Christians had only stolen the name, that’d be one thing, but they didn’t, in either case. In the case of Easter, they stole bunnies and eggs (not an all-inclusive list) from fertility festivals, and in the case of Christmas, they stole evergreen trees and wreaths (again not all-inclusive) from winter festivals.

          That’s the first I’ve heard of bledosian, Matt. Fascinating.

        • (And I think the real trouble for Christianity, then, is that if they stole bunnies and rabbits from fertility festivals that have nothing to do with the life of Jesus, who’s to say they didn’t also steal the idea of resurrection from the stories of Baldur and Osiris?)

        • Matt says:

          Both etymology and theology, I think. As Christianity spread into those areas of Europe it co-opted, repurposed and recontextualized the terminology of the existing faith systems. Same thing happened with Buddhism in Asia, not to mention just about every other religion that has ever spread to or encountered a culture outside of its place of origin.

          And yeah, that’s sort of my point: understanding the lineage of these things doesn’t invalidate Christianity at all, and I don’t understand people who behave as though it does.

        • Becky says:

          Well, Will, where the Egyptians get THEIR stories?

          This idea of “stealing” as if a ritual or a concept or a symbol can be stolen like a TV is odd to me.

          Have we stopped to consider that paganism asserted itself within a Christian paradigm? I mean, it’s not like Christianity came, took the word Easter, then left, the pagans standing there with no word for their spring party because the Christians took it.

          I mean, none of this is surprising or treacherous in the least. Pagan systems all “stole” from each other too.

          And plenty of religions “steal” from Christitanity.

          The thievery thing is just not apt. These are the artifacts of a much larger umbrella of cross-cultural influences and interaction, and they go both ways. It happens in language, in religion, in tradition, politics. This is not a religious phenomenon, in my opinion.

        • Didn’t paganism substantially predate Christianity?

          Stole is probably the wrong word.

          What I mean is that, during the nascent stages of Christianity, its founders and developers looked around at the rituals and festivals employed by the people with whom they shared the world, appropriated many of those customs with little regard to how it fit, ostensibly, the religion’s central figure–Jesus was likely born in the spring, for example, not during the winter–and then, in many cases, persecuted the cultures from which they had appropriated their festivals, outlawing their beliefs, practices, and rituals.

          Of course, this isn’t something only Christianity has done. Other religions have done it over the years, too.

          I’m not sure that makes it right.

        • Matt says:

          Yeah, that’s why I didn’t say “steal,” as I agree, it’s not really an appropriate term for the phenomenon. When you say “stole” in this context, it implies an individual or group who made a conscious decision to appropriate the symbolism of another’s faith for their own purposes. While this certainly HAS been a tactic used by missionaries (especially as a form of negative reinforcement to intice in new converts), it more just a human thing to do, and by no means unique to the spread of religion.

          If you move to an area where no one speaks the language you do, live there long enough and interact with the local populace, eventually you’ll pick up a working understand of the native tongue, which will in turn become infused in part with your native tongue. It’s not even a voluntary process; active participation just expedites it.

        • Matt says:

          Ack! *Entice* new converts.

          Damned cold medicine.

        • Matt says:

          We’re here on a writer’s website, so I think we’ll all (more or less) be in agreement on this: human beings are very good at just making shit up from any number of inspirations, be they divine or otherwise.

        • Becky says:

          Will, in the nascent stages of Christianity, Christians were much too busy fleeing from blood thirsty pagans and Jewish governance to call a board meeting and plot a 2,000 year-long, large scale, premeditated culture heist of the whole world.

          Too busy being eaten by lions and running away to live in caves in caves in Qumran.

          What can I say? Pay back’s a bitch. *shrug*

          I mean, I’m kidding. Sort of.

          This is the way global politics and religion have always interacted. There’s nothing uniquely sinister about any given instance or any given religion.

        • I guess we’re going to ignore the whole Council of Nicea thing?

          I didn’t say there was anything uniquely sinister about any given religion. They’re all pretty sinister when you come right down to it. Just because everyone’s being sinister doesn’t actually make being sinister good or, if you’ll excuse the pun, right, though, does it?

        • Becky says:

          Well, no. That would be fallacy of consensus. Potentially an appeal to tradition.

          But it’s a moot point, in my mind, since I don’t believe any of them to be fundamentally sinister. So we don’t really even get that far.

          Oh, the council of Nicea. My mistake. I thought you said “nascent,” like, BEFORE it was the official religion of the largest empire on earth.

        • Well, wasn’t the point of Nicea that it had basically just become the official religion of Rome? Like, various parts of Rome had followed the tenets, but Christian persecution had just ended, and the point of the Council was like, “Okay. Everybody is Christian. Now we have to make a grand declaration of what Christian means.”

          Hence the Nicene Creed.

          I mean, that was just one aspect. Of course there were others. If memory serves, in fact, one of them was deciding the date of Easter. Which they just happened to slapdash on top of the fertility festival, let’s note!

          I get your point about sinister. I don’t think religion sets out to be sinister. I guess, so far, it’s just not been able to help it.

        • Becky says:

          Well, yes. That is what the Council of Nicea did. A council of “theologians” of sorts, charged with arriving at a consensus about core Christian doctrines/beliefs. But there had already been believers in and followers of Jesus for appx. 300 years at that point.

          Long enough for there to be something like “theologians” of the religion, for example.

          And, tough to say what religion is helping or not helping to thwart, since we have no world without religion to compare it to.

        • And by “theologians” we mean 2000 bishops, right? It was really just all the higher priests, and let’s be honest; it’s not as though there existed theologians as we know theologians today. Probably none as educated in theology as your sister, for example.

          It’s not as though it would have to take a long while for a high priest to exist. Jesus established Peter as the first Pope, and he delegate functions to certain other people, and they went out to preach and probably recruited more men to help them. So we had middle men to whom priests answered and who in turn answered to Peter, so there were probably some around in the first decade.

          Hell, there were probably some before any gospels were even recorded.

        • Becky says:

          There is a reason why “theologians” was in quotes. I thought it was understood.

          You don’t like the use of “theologians” and don’t believe hardly anything in the bible, but you believe Jesus made Peter the first Pope?

          Hoookay…

        • Again, characterizing my position as belief or non-belief is, I think, mischaracterization.

          I find the evidence that a man named Jesus existed convincing. Ditto much evidence of his ministry, such as it were, though I think there are aspects of his ministry absent from the record thereof. I’m reasonably convinced he knew what he was saying was controversial and probably about to get him into trouble, and knowing that, made prior arrangements that his follower he most trusted could both take over and extend his teachings into the world.

          I wasn’t sure your reason for putting “theologians” in quotes, no.

        • Becky says:

          And you believe Peter was the first Pope, and that he was appointed by Jesus.

          I mean, that’s a pretty Catholic aspect of Jesus’ life to believe.

        • Becky says:

          Excuse me. To “find convincing.”

        • Sure, I find that reasonably convincing.

          I’m not sure what your point here is.

        • Becky says:

          My point is that there a number of faiths outside of Catholicism that would disagree.

          The point is that you may be more faithful to you former faith than you would like to admit.

        • Anon says:

          I hope you two realize that you’re not fooling anyone. This whole “religion” thing is obviously just a smoke screen to allow your back-and-forth to bring Will into the 500+ Comment “Dramatis Personae” Club. Shameless.

        • Ha! Nice, Anon! Truthfully, I wondered if Becky kept coming back because she liked me so much!

          And sure, Becky, probably. I don’t think I ever said everything about Catholicism, or any religion, is absolutely wrong. Did I? Because I didn’t mean to!

        • Anon says:

          It’s the hat. Chicks dig it. Damn! Now I’m an enabler – 223….

        • Becky says:

          I just find it interesting that of all thinly substantiated claims of various churches, you would “find convincing” the one that is used to legitimize your former religion as God’s chosen church. That’s all.

        • That goes back up to telephone/whisper-down-the-lane. I mean, it’s difficult to imagine Jesus had in mind the current, former Nazi-led institution that has gone out of its way to provide sanctuary for kid rapists. Given that it was 300 years later, I really don’t even think Nicea knew what it was talking about with regard to Jesus; certainly nobody who then decided what “Christian” meant had ever met the man, or even anyone who had.

          I mean, Jesus was Jewish. He would have celebrated Seder. He likely would have broken bread with the people with whom he regularly associated. He’d been preaching in Jerusalem, and the situation was tense, so he probably knew he was in serious trouble. If the theory I mentioned that he specifically asked Judas to turn him in is true, he definitely knew he was in trouble, and actively chose martyrdom. If he knew he was about to become a martyr, if he’d chosen that option, he probably would have chosen a close associate whom he knew could continue his ministry after he was dead, another man who could lead the small cadre of men with whom he associated.

          And it’s wild speculation, sure, but I’d wager he’d also note it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for Ratzinger to manage entrance into God’s kingdom. Goddamn Nazi baby-rape endorser.

        • Becky says:

          Saying to your buddy, “Hey, keep spreading the good word,” is not the same as declaring a pope. A pope is a denominationally specific thing, not a Christian thing.

        • Isn’t this back to semantics again? The story, as I understand it, goes that when Jesus knew the shit was about to hit the fan, he took Simon aside and said, “Hey, look. First, out of all the others, you seem to get what I’m saying best, and understand it well. Some bad stuff’s about to go down and I’m probably not going to survive it. So I want to you change your name. You’re not Simon anymore. You’re Peter. Which means rock, because you’re the rock on which I hope the world will build the church of my teachings.”

          Do I think Jesus literally said, “Hey, Simon, you’re Peter, and you’re now the first Pope!” I mean, Peter never would have used the title, and Catholics only decided in retrospect he was the first Pope, so far as I know.

          Do I think that Jesus personally told Peter to please carry on his teachings and that Peter, following the death of Jesus, became the de facto leader of the Christian church? I don’t think that’s exactly out of the question.

          So you’re right. I misspoke to say that Jesus established Peter as the first Pope. Jesus really just asked Peter to take over his ministry, which made Peter the first leader.

        • Anon says:

          I don’t write historical fiction but here’s a story line for you: Jesus got himself in over his head and knew the jig was up. Peter, being a good and loyal lieutenant, volunteers to throw himself on the grenade – or, in this case, crucifix – and take the fall. They get Judas to tell the Romans, “I’ll give him up. We Hebes all look alike to you Dagos so just grab the guy I kiss.” The big night comes and, according to plan, Judas gives Peter the Fredo treatment. As he get nabbed, Jesus almost freaks and goes for his sword but Peter reminds him, “Chill, dude – this is what’s supposed to happen!”

          Jesus – now “Peter” – continues his ministry in a more low-key fashion, having been bought some time by the sacrifice of his right-hand man.

          Faith, right?

        • Dude…

          Mind?

          Blown!

          Love this. I could totally see that happening.

          Given you don’t write historical fiction, can I steal that? I’ve already written one version of the scene in question, but I’ve been planning more, and that’s just jaw-droppingly awesome.

        • Zara Potts says:

          The Fredo treatment!!! Ha. Awesome. Jesus Corleone.

        • Becky says:

          Well, it’s not semantics to anyone who isn’t Catholic because the Pope doesn’t lead their church and in many cases, they don’t believe the Pope has any special authority or right to lead any church, period.

          Depending on what kind of non-Catholic you’re talking to (many protestants, for example), the Pope himself may be considered a heretic, potentially the very worst one. So making a direct connection between Peter and Pope has theological and doctrinal implications–it is essentially a statement of belief.

          So it’s not semantics, no. “Pope” is not synonymous with the “rightful heir to Jesus’ ministry” outside of Catholicism.

        • Anon totally set my mind spinning. Because that possibility would totally make sense on all levels, including the resurrection; if Peter was the one crucified, they could have opened the tomb to remove his body and then Jesus–never executed–could have appeared to the women, made a few quick appearances, and then gone quiet as Peter.

          So rad.

          And then, no, Becky, I wouldn’t call Peter the first Pope, and misspoke when I did. Just the chosen right-hand man.

          Whose story just got way more Ian Fleming.

        • Anon says:

          Feel free. And this thread is a nice pretext, too. The whole thing starts with an online discussion, leads to some historical research in sort of a hyper-protestant refutation of Vatican authority – maybe based on the latest child abuse scandals? – and leads to… to…. Hm. Something that isn’t “The DaVinci Code”. Good luck with that last part. And the Catholic equivalent of a fatwa. (:

        • Becky says:

          I was gonna say Dan Brown, but okay. Hollywood works its narrative magic again!

          But you would probably want to be careful to consult quite earnestly with some scholars of the Bible and biblical history.

          There are a lot of gospels and other secondary sources out there that are not in the Bible, and though I don’t know what’s in all of them, there may be some that prove problematic for this scenario.

          Last thing you need is some first or second century whistle-blower pissing on your parade all the way from his obscure, ancient grave.

        • I’m sort of already prepared for such with The Prodigal Hour. The main character, Chance, has a lot of the same questions I do. So he and the other lead, Cassie, travel back to ancient Jerusalem to find out exactly what happened. I’ve already had someone burn my collection because I offended them, and that was sorta tame by comparison.

          And yeah, totally! Brown can have his albino monk; I can totally work with a former-Nazi Pope!

        • I don’t know, Becky; nobody criticizes or really takes umbrage with Brown’s lack of much research (and wild speculation). Well. I guess some people do, but that doesn’t stop people from buying go-jillions of copies of his books.

        • Becky says:

          HEY. That’s not hyper-protestant. That’s just protestant-protestant. Protestantism is exactly about refuting Vatican authority. Like, by definition.

          And that was way before any child-fondling that we know of.

        • Anon says:

          If you do anything with this, though, I’ll ask you for a favor. Sit with it and do it justice. Think about what that would be like, that kind of guilt. No matter what good you do, you are only able to do it because – for all your talk about selfless giving – one of your people, your right-hand man, walked the walk and knowingly laid down his life in a horrible fashion to buy you the space in which to work. Maximize your time. Pay your debt to his memory. Make it work because you owe him. You convinced him that it was God’s plan and you’ve got others lining up to volunteer for the next round of “human pinata” so you’d better believe it yourself.

          That’s some heavy shit to live with, no matter whose son you are.

        • Becky says:

          Will, ESPECIALLY in his wake, it’s probably a good idea to be informed.

          In fact, History International ran a show years ago that picked his assertions apart (potentially more than one). I am reasonably sure there were books, too. Many books.

          And I just read today on one of HuffPo’s “top 20” lists where DaVinci code was listed as a “literary lie” and called out for its BSing about the origins and nature of the Priory of Scion (not that it was the only thing he BSed about).

          Like, people are kinda over that now. I think they’ll be skeptical. Just saying.

          Do what you will.

        • Anon says:

          @Becky: Yeah, but I was thinking of “hyper” in terms of personal motivation and didn’t want to hijack the actual capital-“P” belief system in any way. And I agree on the due dilligence – I suggested a story in one paragraph and it came to me over the course of about forty-five seconds. Research must be done! Good fiction should make you wonder if it just might not be true.

          I know very little about religions. I know a little more about history. I know a lot about human behavior, especially under duress, and much of it is cross-cultural.

        • Anon says:

          Hm. Here’s a thought. Will writes his book, we muster the masses to drive it as close to the best-seller list as possible as fiction. You then write the scathing assault on areas previously agreed upon so that he’ll have swift but only partially-effective counter-arguments. We then have a competing theory – marketed this time as historical analysis so it’s not in direct competition – that you can write, market and sell. Eventually, we spin it into a literary feud, have you argue on-line or in press, set up websites to take donations to get “the next book” published for both of you – people love to take sides in a juicy fight, especially around politics and religion.

          I smell money here, guys….

        • Becky says:

          Ooh! A conspiracy! I love conspiracies! I have always wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself, Anon. This is perfect.

          Will, I think we should do it. I trust Anon. He’s a bit of a hustler with a nose for money. I smell a sort of arts-and-media “Ocean’s Eleven.”

          We’re going to need to destroy this evidence…and get a hold of some of your friends’ heavies, Anon. Awful lot of potential rats in this audience and I’m not cutting them all in.

        • Anon says:

          “I have always wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself….”

          You already are, dear. You just don’t know it yet. (;

        • Becky says:

          Okay.

          I’ve always wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself that makes me filthy rich.

          I’m not part of anything like that yet. Or if I am, I wish someone would give me the bank account number.

        • Okay, I’m so down with this.

          I was mostly being facetious about Brown and research. I mean, I’ve already done a ton of research about the story and its events. I had to. Jesus gets quite a bit of page time in The Prodigal Hour, and I think I carried it off reasonably well. I mean, it’s not dissertation worthy, but of course it’s not meant to be, given the dramatic points of the scenes in question.

          “Swift but only-partially effective counterarguments.” My but doesn’t that just about sum me up.

          And Anon: I’d only do it if I thought I could do it justice. I have a few ideas percolating for fiction surrounding the life of Jesus already, in fact, but I’ve shelved them because a few others are more immediate and, honestly, easier (though still challenging). But I’m with you on all the points you raised.

        • Anon says:

          Good man. (:

  16. Simon Smithson says:

    “There seems to be quite a bold leap from measurable, documentable evidence to “There must be an invisible dude in the sky.”

    Will Entrekin, have you accepted the love of Jesus Jones into your heart? Because it’s not too late for some early-mid-90s synth-rock to change your ways?

    Dug it, man, as I always do. Becky and Uche seem to have taken the discussion of religion to some intriguing places so far, and I think the three of you are well equipped to do so. Discuss on!

    • Thanks, Simon, and of course I have. Jesus Jones rocks the hiz-zouse. Always loved “Right Here, Right Now.” Which always struck me as the sort of Zen I’d figure Jesus would dig.

      • Simon Smithson says:

        Wow, I’ve just seen how quickly this piece has jumped – in comments and popularity. Good to see! A little debate and discussion for Easter time…

        • I know! Of course, I think most of them are mine and Becky’s, I think. I just hope that’s not scaring people from jumping in.

          One of the reasons I posted it, in fact, was for the discussion. I’m not just fascinated by the Jesus brand; I’m fascinated by people’s reaction to it, and how they respond to the man, the myth, the legend–THE BIG JC!

          What do you think, Simon? You’re in New Zealand, yes? You and Zara both, right? Is religion less a part of culture there? Does it vary?

        • Simon Smithson says:

          Y-

          You..

          You son of a bitch.

          Australian. Not a Kiwi. Never a Kiwi! Why I oughta…

          Nah, I kid. Those guys are all right. We only make fun of each other within our respective borders, then we band together against the rest of the world.

          (Z is in New Zealand, for clarification’s sake).

          Hang on – I had to address that issue first, and I’ll be back in a little while to throw some light on our religious outlook.

        • Zomg ha! I wasn’t sure! I knew you were somewhere over there! With some time in San Francisco, no?

          I owe you a beer to make it up to you. Luckily, you’ll be in the states soon.

        • Simon Smithson says:

          To finally get to this: we’re a predominantly Christian society, but religion doesn’t play an entirely active role in culture. Or rather, religion didn’t, but over the past few years, with the mobilisation of the evangelical front, Christianity is become somewhat louder – this, of course, is offset by the fact that the atheist movement is growing louder as well. There was a recent atheist conference over here, Dawkins was the keynote speaker.

          Some members of Parliament are more vocal in their support or disagreement of measures based on faith – which led to the wonderful women’s rights catchcry of ‘Keep your rosaries off my ovaries’ a few years back in regards to the RU486 pill.

          Older generations certainly have more of a religious affiliation, but it’s of a quiet breed, a lot of the time. With more migrants, the number of people who identify as Islam or Hindu is certainly growing, but Christianity is by far and away the religion of Australia.

          Me personally? I don’t know. I’m not Christian, that’s for sure, and I doubt I’d describe myself as particularly agnostic (at least, not in terms of organised religion), but my hardcore atheist leanings have been entirely challenged by some of the weird shit that’s gone on for me over the last year or so.

          I’ll have to take a raincheck on a final answer, amigo.

        • This is arguably one topic for which there will never be a final answer. At least so far as one to share. Which is a bit sad, I feel.

          It’s interesting you mention both size and volume, that is, that those factions are growing louder. I always wonder about that here in the US, but especially when I see those sorts of Gallup polls that profess to measure belief and all that. I think one of the last figures I read was that something like 98% of Americans believe in God.

          I can’t decide if that would surprise me. It sort of makes sense. I mean, so far as I know, this country has never had a president who wasn’t Christian, though I think JFK was the first Catholic–something like that. Which seems oddly unbalanced. I mean, not even a Jew at some point? Just always struck me as not just strange but something oddly never discussed, or even mentioned. We get reports, now, about candidates’ going to church, but that’s about as far as it goes, and it’s rarely part of the political character as described. Which I think is probably part of the reason a lot of Americans still think Barack Obama is a Muslim.

          Then again, the better question is really: so what if he is?

          I love the “Keep your rosaries off my ovaries.” It rings a bell.

          From what part of Australia do you hail? Where do you make home?

        • Simon Smithson says:

          I’m from Melbourne:

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melbourne

          (we’re the best city)

  17. “In literature and philosophy, five pages of well-argued bullshit do quite nicely.”

    I did two degrees together – History and Literature. I found the above applied to history, too. The skills we picked up in Literature taught us to write as though we knew what we were talking about, when in fact we often had no idea.

    • Good point. Were you going into law? That tandem is pretty popular for pre-law, if I’m remembering correctly.

      • Nope. I was just looking for something to keep my attention for four years, and I like books and stories and stuff.

        • Heh. Win.

          I remember when I was giving up on the doctor thing, I spoke to my father. I’ve talked to my dad about lots of those sorts of important choices over the years, and I remember to this day what he said to me.

          “You know, Will, I want you to do what makes you happy. Just remember there aren’t any broke doctors.”

          Years later, I see his point with so much more perspective.

  18. Anon says:

    Will, I found your post to be a very interesting read but, I must admit, I’m finding the running commentary absolutely riveting. I have a similar religious educational background (stories there I cannot share here) that has led to an enduring passion for comparatives with other faiths and mythos. As Simon already expressed, please keep going! Great stuff.

    • Thanks, Anon. And totally agree about the commentary. For me, personally, it helps me parse my actual opinions with regard to these giant issues.

      • Anon says:

        It really is “The Elephant Diet”, isn’t it? One small bite at a time….

        • You know, I chuckled when I first saw this, but it and the discussion have reminded me of a story about the Gospels I’ve always enjoyed. Well. I guess an analogue more than a story. Which is:

          Four guys. A fifth guy blindfolds them, brings them into a room, and puts each one’s right hand on some part of an elephant. One gets the tail, one gets an ear, one gets a side, and one gets a trunk. After about a minute during which they’re allowed to touch no other part, the fifth guy removes the elephant from the room and asks each man what they had their hand on: the first says paint brush bristles, the second says thin leather, the third says a thick leather canvas, and the fourth says tubing of some sort.

          All four men are right about what they had their hands on, their experience of what they held.

          None said an elephant.

  19. Matt says:

    Got so caught up in the above discussion, I almost forgot to drop the rest of my comment! Which is:

    Nice post, and a well thought-out point of view. And dare I say, a bit timely, in the wake of the ongoing molestation scandals the Catholic church is currently (badly) dealing with.

    Like you, I’m in the same camp as Hitchens and Dawkins, though I lean away from the severity of either them (especially Hitchens). Might just be because I grew up in a secular household, so I’m responding on any real personal level to religion; for me it’s always been something of an abstract concept.

    • Thanks, Matt. I think I might’ve planned to discuss this latest scandal, but ran out of room. The Catholic church has never really dealt with anything very well, though, has it?

      When I think of the camps in question, I think that there’s Hitchens et al. on one side, with all of religion on the other, and I think, what’s really lacking right now, is a sweet spot down the middle for people who are interested in such matters and to whom faith is important but who recognize the overall problem of religion in general.

      I think my growing up in a Catholic household colors my perception of the debate, as well. I never knew a happy ground growing up, and for me to be able to recognize greater matters of faith and spirituality, I had to break from the too-strict teachings of religion. There was no room in my upbringing for questioning, which was often punished and always discouraged.

      • Matt says:

        Well, Hitchens isn’t really an atheist, he’s an antitheist, someone who stands diametrically opposed to religion in all forms (Dawkins is far more moderate). I’m not, though I will admit to have been close to that point a few times when I was younger.

        A person can believe the sun rises and sets in my pants for all I care, up until the point where they try to remove my testicles and enshrine them as religious relics. In other words, I don’t really care what sort of religion a person chooses to practices up to the point where they start practicing it on me – or anyone else – without expess consent. “Mandate from God/Allah/Yaweh/Odin/Ahura Mazda/Anansi” joest doesn’t cut it, I’m afraid.

        After several centuries of bad behavior, I have trouble feeling bad for the Catholic church. ANy secular organization that had so badly mishandled the care of children entrusted to it (handicapped kids, at that) would have been shut down – with massive criminal penalties – long, long ago. And now, rather than do they right thing, they’re just attacking the messengers.

        • Yeah, I definitely have to read more of their work. I’ve only really ever seen them on television and watched their talks on YouTube. I browsed the the Sam Harris book (something about Reason, I want to say?).

          I don’t know what I am, mostly. I mostly agree with your second paragraph, except I think too often religion verges forward into mandate, proselytizing, and etc. I mean, I’m not an atheist. And I’m not against God. I guess I might be anti-religious, but only when it causes harm. Then again, I fear I may think it’s enough harm to be holding progress and the world back by way of antiquated belief systems and obsolete rules for life, but I don’t think I’m quite that extreme just yet. Some days are better than others.

          At this point, the thing the Catholic church seems most useful for is as sanctuary for NAMBLA members.

        • Matt says:

          Last fall I read Hitchens’ God Is Not Great and Dawkins’ The God Delusion. Dawkins’ book is the better of the two, though he gets a little too dry in a few sections; too rational for his own good, I guess. Hitchens is the far more impassioned of the two, which makes him easier to read, but which also leads him at times to some specious arguments.

          I was a “closeted” atheist for a long time, mostly because it was always awkward when I’d admit to being such around my religious friends or schoolmates. The assumption always seemed to be that after declaring myself so, I was then going to attempt to convert them – that I was an evangelical atheist, I suppose. So I just kept quiet about it for a while.

          These days, though, I don’t much care.

  20. Greg Olear says:

    200. Your silver card is in the mail.

    • ZOMG! Is there confetti? Because that’d be awesome.

      Seriously, though, what a great discussion overall. Nice to write a post that totally gets away from you. Rad. I’ll have to do this more often.

  21. reno says:

    will-

    this was a great write. religion stuff? oh, you will get the village riled up w/ stuff like this. i could go on and on about this topic, but to save myself from hate mail (of which i adore but simply don’t have the time to address right now) i’ll simply say that irrational thought is just that. and for that i can’t engage. not now. not ever. again: very cool piece. thanks for your thoughts, man.

    reno romero

  22. Cheryl says:

    Fascinating post, Will, and an absolutely riveting discussion. I have been lurking since the post went up, so caught up in comment discussion that I haven’t had time to post any comment myself.

    There is so much in the general historical context that is missed is the story of Jesus that any question of whether any of the supernatural stuff actually took place is moot. Besides, that is a matter of faith, and as such, I doubt any evidence for or against would change people’s minds anyway. “Satan put that evidence there to test my faith! I won’t fall for it!” (I am being extreme in this example yes. It’s a joke. Since my Dad and Step-Mom are bible-thumping, fire-and-brimstone, the Bible-is-the-literal-truth-every-word-of-it, accept-Jesus-as-your-personal-Savior-or-burn, reformed Baptists, I know a little about this response. Don’t judge them, though. They’re lovely people and I love them dearly. They’ve calmed down a bit in recent years.)

    For example, the meaning of the title “Messiah” in the historical context of his day. My knowledge of Judaism is scant, so if I am misinformed I welcomed being corrected, but as I understand it, there is no concept in Judaism for the idea of a literal Son of God. The Anointed One is not Divine, but human, like King David. Exactly like King David, since he was the last Anointed One. And also as I understand it, many Jewish people of the day were hoping for an earthly Anointed King to smite the Romans. Those who were not his followers must have been very dissapointed in Jesus as far as that goes. (“Turn the other cheek? Whaa…? When do we get to smite someone?”)

    (Jumping around a bit here) I’m not sure I ever remember reading Jesus referring to himself as the Son of God. He called himself the Son of Man often. He said “I am the light and the way”, but he didn’t say the only light and way. And he was speaking to a specific group of people, in a specific place and time. Maybe he was the only light and way – for them.

    All this is why I never have been able to accept the Bible literally. That’s not to discount it’s greatness; or say that it has no value. The veracity of the actual events as they are described has no bearing on the profound beauty and Truth of “Love thy neighbor as thyself”; or “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” And what revolutionary statements they were back then, when the law was more akin to “an eye for an eye” and when people were dragged off to arenas to be tortured in public for sport. They are still revolutionary statements now, we’re just so used to hearing them we forget how important they are, and that they are not just statements but instructions.

    Which is, I think, where religion becomes problematic for me. Religion focuses on the stuff I find beside the point – whether or not he was the literal Son of God, whether Mary was a virgin, whether or not you believe he literally rose from the dead, what constitutes sin and who’s doing it (answers: Damn near everything and everyone), who is doing what to whom in the bedroom, whether you’ve been saved or how many times you went to confession, or if you got last rites before you kicked the bucket, etc. etc. I mean, honestly. Do we really think Jesus is up there keeping score on how many times you’ve masturbated and docking “heaven points” for not asking for forgiveness? The really important stuff can so easily get missed.

    • Thanks, Cheryl, and fascinating comment. The discussion has been pretty awesome, and yours is certainly a welcome addition! So much in here.

      I think I agree with you about the supernatural parts being moot, and certainly with your final paragraph. Although he may be keeping track of how many times we’ve masturbated by the number of kittens he’s had to kill! (Oh terrible Internet meme jokes!)

      I also agree about the profound beauty and truth of the passages you mention, which certainly don’t require anything supernatural for their corroboration. Does Jesus need to have risen from the dead for us to love our neighbors as ourselves? I don’t think so.

      Oh! And good point about Son of Man! I think I remember the same thing. Even when he was called before the Sanhedrin, who flat out asked him if he claimed to be the Son of God, he avoided directly answering the question; his response, as recorded, is something along the lines of “I say to you that the Son of God will come from the clouds” or something. And “That is what you say.” Never “Why, yes, indeed, I am the Son of God. I know it’s problematic, but it’s a pleasure to meet you. PS you’re about to crucify me so that I can rise again in fulfillment of the scriptures. Great story, right?”

      One thing I’ve always loved about “I am the way and the light” is that that claim is not unique in the Bible. There was another Light-Bearer in those pages: Lucifer. Although the story of Old Testament story of the Fall seems more accurately to refer to . . . Venus, I want to say? It’s been a while since I read that bit. And great point about his not necessarily being the only light, and for whom.

      I try not to judge, for the simple reason that though I have problems with the mindset itself, I’m sure your parents are lovely people. I’m sure they’d probably offer pie and iced tea to any guests. It’s a difficult tension to want to condemn a Church and its teaching but not necessarily the adherents thereto, who are often lovely people. I try. I sometimes fail, but I try. I don’t think I’m as militant about it as some people I’ve seen (Maher springs to mind). Then again, I don’t think that’s what those guys think, either. I don’t think Hitchens thinks that the Church is evil and so is everyone who follows its teachings. I think he and the others would probably say that the Church is criminal as an institution overall, but that its adherents are more misguided than anything else.

      Misguided. I’ve always liked that word. Life is a path, after all. I think Jesus’ teachings are one way to stay true to the journey, as are many of those of Muhammad and Moses and Buddha and etc. We’re all just trying to find our way, after all. I know I’ve been misguided at times. Funnily, having been pre-med is part of my guide: “First do no harm.”

      • Cheryl says:

        I think you just hit on my other big problem with religion, and I’ll come out and say specifically against radical fundamentalist religion in all of its forms, is the insistence that there is only ONE way to God, ONE way to believe, ONE way to think.

        That defined my break from the Christianity I was raised to believe. Ironically, it came because my parents decided my sibs and I had to read the Bible every night for 1/2 hour before bed, starting when I was 10. Even at 10 there was a great deal in there that I just couldn’t swallow. And then there were the church services.

        That’s when I started asking questions like – how can God decide to send everyone to hell except people who say they believe in his son, if he only sends his son after millions of people have already lived and died? And why would he punish those who haven’t heard “the word” when there was no way for them to hear “the word” and they didn’t even there was a “word” to be heard? Would God really expect my Dad to throw me out to the street in exchange for one of his angels to be gang-raped by Sodomites? I don’t see Hell in here anywhere; how do we know it exists? Why wouldn’t He tell us there was one if He was going to send people there for not doing what he said? If we have to everything it says to do in the Bible why are we eating leavened bread?

        You know, stuff like that. Clearly, it all went downhill from there.

        • Clearly. Ha!

          But you get to a very essential point: I’m not sure I’d have problems with any religions if only for each one’s claim that their the only true one.

          I’m a bit of a subjectivist in a lot of ways, I think. I think, regardless of what we’re talking about, my experience of anything is going to be a lot different from yours. Like, say, Manhattan. Manhattan is an objective place, with streets and geography and residents and etc., but if you and I both went, even if you and I went to one particular place, we’d have two different experiences of it. Both are experiences would probably have elements in common, but even if we sat down to delineate everything we saw and heard and felt and etc., while we’d know what sort of experience the other’d had we wouldn’t have it.

          I kind of feel the same way about faith and God. If there are seven billion people in the world, there pretty much have to be seven billion different experiences of both. And then there’s this religion that attempts to establish a doctrine seemingly somewhat arbitrarily, and that’s where I have issues.

          It’s not like I don’t think Christianity should exist. For some people, the ministry of Jesus is a powerful thing, and the resurrection is important. It’s not like I don’t think Islam shouldn’t exist; submission to God is a powerful idea, one I in truth like a great deal, giving yourself over to something greater than yourself.

          It’s that one-true-way thing.

          All roads led to Rome. All faith can lead to God.

          And don’t even get me started on the contradictions. Like the people who condemn homosexuality while eating shrimp scampi.

          Fitzgerald said that the definition of genius is the ability to hold in one’s mind two completely dichotomous beliefs, both in opposition to each other. I always wonder how he’d’ve felt about religion.

  23. Erika Rae says:

    When speaking of the resurrection, the first question I ask myself is: why.

    The classic church answer, of course, is to “have everlasting life”, which the modern church has interpreted as “to avoid hell”. In order to speak of Christ’s resurrection, then, hell must at some point enter into the conversation.

    But here’s the problem – hell (in the way we think of it in the modern church – as in, the place souls are sent to be eternally separated from God after death of the body). But where is “Hell” in the Old Testament? Sure, it’s in the New Testament – but the incidences of the word “Hell” have all been removed from all of the major modern translations.

    Does this mean that Hell was founded in the year 33AD? Nobody knew about it before then. Not even Peter gave it a mention (who holds the keys to the kingdom, I’m told) in the NT.

    What implication does this have for the story of the resurrection?

    It’s sort of a conundrum.

    • Anon says:

      Re: Hell’s founding. Most towns have an elevation/date founded sign at their limits. I’ll shoot you a note as soon as I can after I get down there and let you know what it says (don’t think I’ll be able to take the phone-cam with me so you’ll have to take my word for it).

      Seriously, though, wasn’t there a pre-Christian, Jewish “hell” of sheol for purification? Although I suppose that would make it more of a purgatory than a hell. And speaking of temporary suffering, time to flee the office. I will – drinking or not – attempt to tune back into this fascinating (seriously!) thread this evening. If I don’t make it… Happy Easter?

      • Erika Rae says:

        Sweet. I can hardly wait to hear from you.

        Sheol – exactly. Not hell, though. Not in the modern sense. I’m speaking from an Evangelical protestant point of view, of course – but I think you’re right. Purgatory would be the closest to it from the Catholic perspective.

        I just think it was awfully irresponsible of Peter (key holder) to never even mention the place. Sort of makes you wonder….

      • With the resurrection, I’m not even sure I get to why. But that’s my own thing, and we’ve established that.

        So, wait, we’re talking about when it was founded in the Church (and Christian or Catholic), or when the idea of Hell began?

        I think–and here my understanding may be somewhat limited–but it’s another one of those appropriations (at least in terms of Catholicism/Christianity). Most cultures and myth systems have had an analogue to it–Hades is probably the most major, but there were others. I know Baldur went down to the Norse underworld after he died on the Tree of Life (and then came back from said Underworld), but I mainly know that because of Neil Gaiman, whom I trust more than Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John first because I’ve met Neil and second because he’s a mythology nut.

        But you’re right; Hell isn’t in the Old Testament. At all. There are passages in a couple of the prophet’s books–Isaiah? Ezekial?–that mention a fall, but they’re referring to Babylonian kings, and not Lucifer

        Which, like I mentioned above, means he who brings light. Like Jesus claimed to.

        So interesting, that.

        I think the idea of Hell, at least in Catholicism, has evolved over the years. I remember being taught about Purgatory, too.

    • Becky says:

      Well, the standard line in a basic religious studies class would be that Judaism has neither a heaven nor a hell, at least not really in the way Christians tend to think of it. I mean, most of our concepts of hell as a place and the traditional imagery that comes with it doesn’t come from the Bible at all. Mostly, it comes from writers. Dante Alighieri and others.

      So there’s a sort of Gordian web when it comes to parsing notions of hell, not just between religions but within them.

      A lot of Christians take a more sort of poetic, metaphorical theological attitude towards it–that hell is the experience of living outside of God’s love/light–and as such, it is something can be/is experienced in one’s mortal life as well as (maybe even rather than) the everlasting one.

      The topic of heaven and hell, particularly hell, is a fascinating one.

      • Erika Rae says:

        Interesting what you say about “parsing notions of hell” etc. You’re spot on, I think. Everyone’s got a slightly different definition – and even within the same denominations.

        I was raised a fundamentalist Evangelical protestant (Nazarene, specifically) and we saw hell around every corner. I’ve heard more than my share of the fire and brimstone sermon – and I remember being terrified. Hell was constant, eternal torment (fire and lakes of lava…the whole works) involving absolute separation from God. Very Dante-esque, in a way.

        I believe most Evangelicals are largely motivated by a fear of the hot place (or “the lonely place” for those more up on their scripture). At least that was my experience – that the people I knew within the evangelical circle were quite concerned about their names being written in the Book of Life in order to avoid Hell and therefore eternal damnation.

        I think it’s worth noting that Evangelicals make up nearly 29% of the US population – larger even than the Catholic faction (only 28.6%) and the mainline protestants (13.9%). I’m not sure where the “Progressives” lie within those numbers, but I think it’s safe to say that they would be the largest group questioning Hell and taking a more “metaphorical” view of it. But I don’t think so as much with the Evangelicals. Not in my experience anyway.

        I once told my mother-in-law that I didn’t think there was really a hell – and that I didn’t even think its notion was that biblical, if one looked at the OT as well as the NT. She looked at me sort of shocked and confused. “Well, what would be the point, then?”

        It’s funny, but I’m inclined to think there is a point without the fear of Hell. It simply involves more love and less fear/guilt-motivation. Much nicer to say, “I admire/respect/worship a creator – whomever that may be – simply because of (fill in blank with love, life, etc.)” rather than “I love God because if i don’t, I’m going to Hell.” Seems like a far more civilized form of devotion, at any rate.

        Since I am no longer a part of the Evangelical church, I am curious as to how they deal with this exclusion of the word Hell from the Old Testament these days. Is there anybody out there brave enough to weigh in? Is the answer these days simply because the old timers were not aware of it, but that surely God made allowances? Does this actually make sense to anyone? Isn’t that the prime motivator for a lot of mission work – because people have no excuse by their ignorance? Did David go to Hell? Jacob? Isaac? They were surely ignorant. And if they did not go to Hell in their ignorance, then – I’ll ask again – why the resurrection?

        In making it so that the soul doesn’t have to die, did the act of Jesus on the cross theeoretically sentence eternal torment to those souls who would have otherwise ceased to exist (following failure to be purified in Sheol)?

        Theologically – at least in my pea-sized brain – it would appear to be so.

        • I fear part of the point is to scare people into believing. I fear it’s a threat, an ultimatum. If you don’t accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, well, off to the fiery pit for you!

          I’m fairly sure–but may be mistaken–Jesus never mentioned Hell. He mostly focused on the coming of the kingdom of God, and how difficult it was to get into it. Did he mention what happened if you didn’t?

          I agree with you, Erika, that there’s a point without Hell–I’m inclined to think that point is virtue. Loving one’s neighbor as one loves one self is just a nice thing to do. Nevermind the threat of eternal damnation.

        • Anon says:

          Will, this is what I grew up with (as I’m sure I’ve mentioned elsewhere) as an East Coast Catholic: God as Mafia don. Do what you’re told. Obey the boss. Don’t ask questions. Show respect. Because you got a nice-lookin’ soul there and it’d be a shame if something bad were to happen to it. Like, maybe… I don’t know… it falls into a fiery lake for eternity or somethin’. Now… where’s that “voluntary donation” you owe us…?

        • Dude! I was in the same Church!

          You know, I never got my knuckles rapped, but I feel like it’s the only cliche missing from my Catholic upbringing.

          That “voluntary donation”? Fire insurance! Ha!

        • Becky says:

          “Evangelical” is almost as interesting as the notion of hell. Or increasingly so.

          Technically (arguably), all Christians are evangelical, in that evangelism means spreading the word about Christ and/or his teachings, which he seems to have advocated, and most Christian religions do.

          That is to say, Christianity is unlike Orthodox Judaism in that you can convert to it. To the best of my understanding, traditionally, Judaism is something you’re born into. Not just a religion, but an ethnicity. So this may provide some insight into the Evangelical nature of Christ/Christianity.

          I realize this has changed somewhat in more liberal forms of Judaism, but in Christ’s time, I’m not sure there was much of a thing as conversion in the way we conceive of it.

          Anyway, there are evangelicals that come to your door incessantly if you ever answer it once, and then there are churches in the ELCA, which, though they have “Evangelical” in the name of their synod, do not come to your door, do not crash funerals, do not leap all over you if you mention God in a social setting, etc. They will answer your questions if you ask, share their experiences, etc., and that is evangelism to them.

          I mean, this, too, depends on any given denomination’s idea of what it is to evangelize. Almost all Churches, to the best of my knowledge, do some kind of missionary work, but there are different expressions of this. Some missionaries tell, and some missionaries show.

          That sort of thing.

          So I object to the pejoration of “Evangelical” and it’s synonymity with religious extremism. It’s not a type of Christian, in my opinion.

        • Erika Rae says:

          I hear what you’re saying, Becky. I agree that it’s too bad the word has been hijacked by a movement that often connotes fundamentalism. Of course,”Christian” has been hijacked just as egregiously….

        • Becky says:

          Well, that’s sort of the point at which I tend to get in trouble with people, religious or not.

          I don’t see “Christian” as a value judgment. That is, I don’t think you can say to someone, “that’s not a Christian thing to do!” and be right, most of the time. Because what IS the “Christian thing to do?”

          I mean, when you say things like that, you put yourself in the position of speculating on what Christ would do, on interpretations of Christ, or on what it is to be a Christian, none of which have hard and fast answers and all of which require some level of belief.

          It’s a hairy situation.

        • Becky says:

          “He mostly focused on the coming of the kingdom of God”

          The only thing I could get my sister to say about all of this was the following, on facebook:

          “Jesus was a sort of independent libertarian–he would not be co-opted into allying himself with any of the existing politcal/religous parties or identifiable factions and would neither endorse the existing power structures nor advocate their overthrow.”

          Presumably, this is because the only kingdom he cared about–and the only one he thought mattered–was the kingdom of God.

          I mean, a bold statement, but one she is probably more qualified to give than any of us.

        • As I understand it, Evangelism and Evangelicalism are two different things. The latter is a Protestant Christian denomination with specific delineation while the former is that “witnessing” you’re talking about, Becky. Spreading the word may be original meaning of the word, but Evangelicalism includes more specific requirements. Evangelicals can evangelize, obviously, and you’re right that, technically, pretty much all Christian denominations include some evangelism–where evangelism means spreading the word of “Christ” to all who would receive it–but not all denominations are Evangelical. I’m not sure, for example, Catholic qualifies as Evangelical. I know that, to practice whatever denomination he now identifies with–and I’m not sure which that is–my brother had to be “born again” (like my mother didn’t do a good enough job the first time!). Which I think implies he wasn’t so in the first place.

          I know lots of people who have converted to Judaism. You’re right that, traditionally, it’s something you’re born into; it’s passed on the maternal side (which may be why the Jesus, son of Mary is so important; Mary as his mother certifies him as Jewish), but it’s both cultural and religious. I’m not sure if it’s now different than it was in the time of Jesus, but a lot of things were, so I wouldn’t doubt it.

          The word hijacking is problematic. I find it so, at least, especially when attempting to define my position in terms of faith. I thought Christendom came closest, but really that has come to mean the “kingdom” of Christianity. I like the idea of “Christ” as honorific I mentioned in the essay, and indeed, I personally feel that Christendom is something I aspire to; for me, it’s enlightenment, living a life of goodness and virtue, and teaching. But I would love if we all wanted to be a Christ, a Becky Christ and an Erika Rae Christ and etc.

          If I were at all open to the idea of pseudonym, I might go for William Christ, in fact. That’d be awesome. Except I’d probably get stoned or shot.

          I think the problem–or at least mine–with the value judgment mentioned is that, at least in the case of Catholicism, people claim to know exactly what Christ would have done and judge others accordingly.

          Then again, this may be because, as someone raised Catholic, I often felt very judged growing up. So it might be the root of the thinly veiled resentment mentioned upstream.

        • Becky says:

          Well, yes, there is a difference between evangelism and Evangelicism. I mean, they’re different types of words. One means the actual act of evangelizing and the other means the practice of being a person who evangelizes. The difference lies in the sort of double-verbing of the latter. Though “ism” is a noun ending, it is one that implies doing…

          Anyway, I won’t get carried away in the morphology, but if Evengelicism is a denomination, I am not aware of it. Wikipedia refers to it as a “theological stream,” which would make it not all together different from the notion of “charismatics” we discussed earlier.

          See Erika’s comment about being an evangelical, but Nazarene, specifically.

          I mean, Lutheran, Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, etc. are Protestant denominations, each with core theological differences separating them (not all of which I know). I don’t believe that Evangelicism has a stand-alone theology. It is possible for, I suppose, any given church of any given type to be more evangelical or less evangelical and even that those who are more evangelical might be spoken of as multi-denominational group, but the fact that they thrown together under such a confusing term is HYPER politicized. I mean, it allows others to throw just about anyone under that umbrella and that is, in my opinion, what it’s intended to do, and what it has been doing with some success. Tempting people to heap anyone they disagree with politically under this increasingly pejoritive religious banner, allowing liberals to believe that that it’s them against the Christians and allowing Christians to believe that liberals are hateful and ignorant when it comes to religion.

          I mean, for example, hypothetically–HuffPo throws up a picture of a pro-life rally and there are three people in it, a Catholic, a Lutheran, and a Nazarene (of course, no one knows this but those three people). They’re waving their signs. They’re incensed. They’re doing what they do. In these kinds of situations, people (not all people, no, and there are people who know better than to make such a mistake), are pulled by political parlance to call all three of them “Evangelical” or “Fundamentalist,” but in this case, it’s a PURELY political term and has nothing to do whatsoever with any religious similarities between the three individuals.

          Of course, there’s only so much to be done about words adopting new meanings, shifting in meaning, etc. But when someone uses “evangelicals” in a political context, I increasingly stop them. I ask them what kind of evangelical, if they know what that means, etc. IF that person is operating from a position of ignorance and just throwing around political buzzwords, I enjoy drawing that to their attention.

        • I thought Nazarene was a subsect of Evangelicalism, which is a subsect of Christianity. Or subdomination. Whichever term is preferred. I’m sure Erika can clarify.

          “and would neither endorse the existing power structures nor advocate their overthrow.”

          I’m not sure about this. We’ve been talking about, and you’ve mentioned specifically, Jesus’ beliefs as being of his time. Upstream I think we mentioned his belief that the world was going to end during his generation, and I think I remember reading, though I’m unsure where, he had some very specific beliefs re: being a Jew, and some of his ministry–including giving up of worldly possessions and other aspects–reflected that.

          Also, he quite literally overthrew the changers in the Temple, which he said would be destroyed but rebuilt in three days’ time. A lot of people think he was referring to his own coming back to life. But that seems to be something of an endorsement.

          So I’m not sure about this. There had to be some tension between his ministry and the power structures at the time, especially given that he was brought before both–the Sanhedrin and the Governor–and, well, we all know where that got him.

          I get what you mean about HuffPo and the appropriation of words, though. I know I’ve been guilty of it myself. I think part of the problem of politicization is the situation. You mentioned they’re at a pro-life rally. This, to me, says that it’s stopped being solely about religion and has come to be about religious people pushing their agenda into political policy. With regard to topics like civil rights (e.g., to marry), abortion, and education, that can be very problematic. I won’t say they have a right to their beliefs, mainly because that feels a bit condescending and of course they do and everyone does and has beliefs, but I do think their right to their beliefs ends the moment they begin to push those beliefs onto others.

        • Becky says:

          The money changers, you’ll recall, though, were over-charging people for sacrificial lambs. If memory serves.

          I mean, that’s what they were doing there. Charging people to worship and cheating them on top of it.

          So this was by no means a secular behavior. It is perfectly reasonable to say that the overturning of the money-changers’ scales/tables wasn’t an economic commentary at all, but rather a commentary on who has access to God and who has the authority to control it. It can and has been used as a protestant argument for the inherent heresy of Catholicism and I have to imagine that it influenced Luther’s rejection of indulgences, for example.

          The religious concept of the event has a lot more to do with the rest of the bible and Christ’s teachings than the notion that the event was a political commentary. Of course, when you start rabble-rousing within a power institution for any reason, you will be seen as a threat by and likely come up against the established power structure, but THEIR political motivations shouldn’t necessarily be mistaken for his.

        • Becky says:

          Regarding the political aspects of pro-lifers, first, I will say that I’m absofuckinglutely exhausted with the political aspects of this conversation and won’t participate in them much further. But I will say that, as citizens of the republic, they have every right to attempt to influence policy in accordance with their values, regardless of the origin of those values.

          And, frankly, I think the notion that they are pushing their way IN to public policy or politics is not realistic. I mean, it is tempting to conceive of reality in terms of our own lifetime, but the big-picture reality is that religion has always played a role in American policy and politics, and if anything, it has been pushed out over time and continues to be pushed out. Much of what we see as an uptick in religiosity in politics is probably a testament to and corroborates that–they are increasingly loud because increasingly, no one is listening to them.

        • Maybe no one is listening to them because people are realizing that religion is irrelevant to politics, or should be?

          The political aspects were never really my aim; I just follow where discussion leads. As I noted way upstream, when I said Jesus was “a bit of a socialist,” I was speaking metaphorically, and never really intended to comment on his political agenda or lack thereof.

        • Becky says:

          I think that religion is less important to people in general, and that is probably the presiding influence on the whole situation.

          Stances regarding whether that’s for better or worse or should or shouldn’t happen are ideological in nature, and I’m not going there.

  24. Erika Rae says:

    Oops – I meant to say – “but the incidences of the word “Hell” have all been removed from all of the major modern translations of the Old Testament.”

    • Heh. I sorta made the same mistake up above. But did Hell–even as a concept, never mind a word–actually appear in the Old Testament in the first place?

      I’d even accept “pit” in this instance.

    • Erika Rae says:

      I don’t have much time to comment, but I’ve been reading along. I just wanted to say that I agree with Becky on the Evangelical label. It is a loosely defined thought stream, and not a denomination per se. Will, you’re right too, however, in the idea that many denominations huddle under a sort of Evangelical umbrella. I read once that there are roughly 1,000 denominations who align themselves with Evangelicalism in some way (these believe in biblical authority, necessity of the resurrection, virgin birth, a need to accept Christ into one’s “heart” to become born again, etc.).

      Becky – tell your sister I am very interested in her answer. I will reread Romans – I know that book well from my formative years and actually used to have large portions of it memorized (oh yes, Christian high school, Christian university, quiz team, and yes…church three times a week…)

  25. Cheryl says:

    I always considered the significance of the Resurrection to be establishing the Divinity of Jesus, as the Son of God, rather than any comment on the afterlife or heaven/hell per se. The distinction is that Jesus’ Resurrection is in the body.

    He performed many miracles, but so did many if the O.T. prophets – Moses, Aaron, Daniel, etc. It took something really big to make it clear that this was no mere prophet, but the Son of God himself.

    I don’t think the idea of an afterlife was anything new. Greeks, Romans, Jews, Egyptians – as far as I know all the ancient religions at the time had some notion of an afterlife. What kind of afterlife may have been different, but I don’t think the Resurrection was needed to prove there was an afterlife; I think most of the people he was preaching to would have already believed there was afterlife anyway.

    As I remember it, ideas of the afterlife are murky, apart from references to Enoch, Elijah and others being bourne into Heaven by angels and chariots and whatnot. But it was pretty clearly implied to be a physical place and the dwelling of God and the angels.

    I like Becky’s comment about “parsing the notions of hell.” Yes, exactly. Satan/Lucifer himself is only referenced a few times in the Bible – O.T and N.T. Tempting Eve (even then he’s not referred to as either, but merely “the serpent”, but the assumption in churches is that it is Satan) in Genesis; the Book of Job; and tempting Jesus are the few times that come to mind. In any case, it doesn’t seem like an awful lot to go on for as prevalent as he is in modern religion.

    In the end I think having a clear villian simply makes for good drama.

    An esoteric view of hell would define it as a state of one’s own making, somewhat akin to karma, where the pain is temporary – purification by fire so to speak. The more pain you’ve caused in your life, the hotter the fire needed to purify. It is a metaphorical fire, of course.

    • Erika Rae says:

      Thanks, Cheryl.

      But here’s my problem. I was raised to understand that Jesus was the metaphorical sacrificial lamb – that he went willingly to the slaughter to cleanse us from sin. Many verses support this – even the famous John 3:16:”For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” and “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Etc, etc. The idea being that Christ’s death and resurrection was not simply to establish divinity, but was as a replacement sacrifice for us, to give us everlasting life. Which is VERY cool of course, but I don’t get it logically in the overall view of the Bible as a whole (OT and NT). If the concept of Sheol was all that existed at the time, then was the idea that we were being saved from being eliminated from existence? If yes, then cool. But my understanding from an Evangelical paradigm (as well as the Catholic view, and supported copiously by scripture) is that Christ’s death and resurrection act saves people from eternal damnation – which is a very different thing than being eliminated from existence.

      If the concept of Hell (eternal torment/separation from God) was being introduced for the first time, should we not potentially see the resurrection as a horrifying thing, as well as beautiful? No eternal torment before Christ’s crucifixion. Eternal torment for the majority of people (by Evangelical views) after the resurrection.

      It’s a cohesiveness problem for me.

      Can someone clarify?

      Which is why I demand to know when Hell was founded, then. Anon, will you please bring us back a brochure from there?

      • Cheryl says:

        Ah yes, the sacrificial lamb. I think that is specific to Jewish law. Jewish law at the time was very specific. There were all kinds of things you had to do atone for a sin, many involving the sacrificing of animals. Like lambs. The way I understood it during my upbringing, was that Jesus stood in for the lamb.

        Honestly, I don’t know enough about the Jewish religion to answer your question about heaven or hell or an afterlife or what the prevailing belief would have been in J.C.’s time. I guess I just always assumed it was a given at the time that there was some idea of an afterlife, and that the quality of that afterlife might be infuenced by say, your adherence to Jewish law, including the required sacrifices. But if you were poor and couldn’t afford to pay the temple fees or make the required sacrifice for whatever reason, you are s.o.l. Enter Jesus, the Son of God, whose blood is the only blood with enough Divine mojo to be a stand-in for all the lambs, ever.

        I never actually considered the resurrection as the beginning of the idea of an afterlife, or as the introduction of the concept of hell. Ideas of the afterlife varied from religion to religion, and hell as we know it was not codified for many many years. What I remember abot descriptions of Hades, for example, is that it wasn’t heaven or hell, but just… kinda dull. I wish I could help you; and now I am really curious to know too.

        • I’m not sure I can really clarify, but I can mention my understanding of the teachings of Catholicism as I learned them, especially with regard to eternal life and those who had lived before.

          Jesus’ death was something of a blank slate for humanity; he died for all our sins. Meaning his death and resurrection wipe clean those of all who’d lived before him. Moses and the Pharaoh, Abraham and Isaac, etc. My impression, then, is that if Heaven and Hell were founded with Jesus’ death and resurrection, there was a hell of a queue to begin with.

          It’s worth noting the idea of life everlasting is problematic for the simple reason of the belief of the return of Jesus and the Rapture. Which I’m pretty sure is a major tenet of all of Christianity. Basically, Jesus “will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.”

          Again, problematic. Because there is a final judgment. But what happens with already judgment? I mean, if the Catholic/Christian belief is that we go to Heaven when we die, so long as we acknowledged Christ as our Savior . . . at the time of the final judgment, do they empty out Heaven completely and rejudge everyone already in it? Like with the saints: belief is that they are literally in Heaven and have a direct line to the Big Cheese, God/Christ/Spirit all simultaneously. Do they get temporarily booted and recarded?

          How much judgment does the world actually require?

          Judaism doesn’t really have an afterlife. I remember talking to my Jewish relatives one Christmas Eve (long story, there). I was just beginning to question Catholicism and its tenets, and I specifically remember asking him what Jews believed happened after they die. And he said “Nothing.” That’s just one, of course, but like Erika’s link upstream notes, the only word given in the OT is “sheol,” which means grave.

          So it seems like Jesus’ everlasting life was something of a new idea. At least for Judaism. In a way, then, the death and resurrection of Jesus was sort of the inciting incident for the addition of an afterlife to Judaic beliefs. To paraphrase Eddie Izzard, the Jews were all like, “Oh, you’ve got an afterlife! Thank Yahweh! We’ve been hoping for one of those for ages!”

          Re: Satan/Lucifer . . . I’ve heard mention that he’s basically the Trickster of Judeo-Christianity. Not so defined in the Old Testament (just as the “serpent,” as mentioned), but evolution at the coming of Jesus and the introduction of a specific half-human-half-deity figure. I’ve also heard a proposition that the petulant toddler God of the OT was Satan fucking with humanity.

      • Anon says:

        Well, it’s the damnedest thing – so to speak. Found the sign with no problem but all it said was: Elevation: No
        Founded: Now
        Population: You

        There were plenty of folks there – all perfectly nice people, from what I could tell – and they all said the sign has always read the same since they got there. Weirdest of all, I couldn’t find Hitler, Stalin or my fifth-grade math teacher. If I didn’t know better, I’d say Hell is a construct of our own making and exists only for so long as we believe that we have done something worth being punished over – which means it could only be populated by those souls good enough to feel remorse.

        I’m thinking there was some sort of international date line thing going on, it was still April 1st and it was all an elaborate April Fool’s joke. I’ll check again in… oh… another fifty years or so. God willing.

      • Becky says:

        Well, it did come with that whole “whosoever believes in me will have eternal life” thing. I’m not sure if that’s a direct biblical quote or just a general theological standard, but the resurrection, like so many good deals, wasn’t without explicit caveats.

        Ultimately, though, I can’t answer your question in any authoritative way. AGAIN, my sister could be so helpful here.

        I’m going to go hound her, Erika. She’s Lutheran and not of any evangelical stripe, but I will get you your answer–AN answer–if it kills me. Will activate annoying little sister powers and even tattle to Mom if I have to.

      • Becky says:

        Okay, Erika. It turns out she has not been avoiding us, but has just been busy (theology teacher and mom at post-Midterm/Easter time).

        She mentioned that your question deserves a long and considered response and said Will’s post does, too. I take this to mean she’ll be joining us at some point. At any rate, here is what she said as a prelude (reading assignments for later discussion! Pshhhh. Teachers):

        “…the “sacrificial atonement model” that dominates both evangelical and Catholic theology is actually NOT the dominant conception of the work of Jesus as one sees it in the NT esp. Paul. If you have a chance in the next few days, read Romans 2-7 (or through 8 if you want). ROmans is like the Magna Charta of theolgy–it doesn’t say everything there is to say, but it sets the terrain in a pretty determinative way. But you’ll notice that Paul, while delving deeply in this section into what exactly the human predicament is and what Jesus does to affect it, talks very little about forgiveness and even less about heaven and hell.”

    • I don’t think Judaism really had (or has) an afterlife. There was a place for souls to be cleansed in some sects, like Kabbalistic ones, but I’m not sure there was word on what occurred after said cleansing.

  26. Erika Rae says:

    You know, Will, I still think you look smashing in teal.

  27. Marni Grossman says:

    I’ve always wanted to read the New Testament. I grew up in a fairly observant Jewish household so I feel like I have the five books of Moses covered. But anything past that is pretty much a mystery to me. Thanks for giving me a good reason to give it a look, Will!

    • Of course, Marni! There’s a lot of interesting stuff in it. It’s very different from the Old Testament, especially in terms of tone. Lots less material to cover, too.

      Well. Except Revelations. Which is just weird.

  28. Paul Clayton says:

    Hey, Will,

    what a thoughtful, engaging post!

    “Then again, as Pilate so famously asked: “What is Truth?”

    I thought ’twas Bill Clinton spake thus???

    Like you, I was raised Catholic, terrorized by Sister Mary Blockantackle at Rezurrection parish. I once received an award for sitting the stillest at an Easter service. I really worked at this despite that one damn fly that tried to make me flinch and scratch. And for this the good sister gave me some chocolats, Easter bunnies I believe.

    I guess I’m an agnostic. As much as I would like to see a burning bush, or see God smite some son of a bitch who parks in the handicapped spot and then strolls arrogantly to the ATM, it hasn’t happened. I do believe that God acts, but mainly through us. You know, when people do Godly things, save lives, quiet mobs, etc.

    Of course, some folks think God wants them to saw the heads off those who don’t worship him as they do. I don’t think I want to roll with that God.

    I will soon begin reading the bible. It’s on my list. I’m am really intrigued by the references to God in the plural. And, please forgive me, I love all those books about other theories to explain miracles and gods blasting poor mortals to ashen heaps, raising the dead, and getting the choices booty from the earth babes. I mean to look into that.

    Well, time for a nap.

    Good one!

    • Thanks, Paul!

      I thought Bill Clinton’s was “Well, that depends on what your definition of ‘is’ is.” Ha! Old Slick Willy certainly always was a wily little fucker.

      I’ve always liked the tenets/ideas you mention, as well; that the Lord does the best work through us. I think Jesus is recorded as having said “You will know me through my work.” I like that, and I don’t think the work in question really has anything to do with miracles; I think he was just talking about that whole being a good dude thing. Or I hope so, anyway.

      I hope you enjoy the Bible when you read it. There are so many translations, some with more poetry than others.

  29. […] Will Entrekin has pointed out, Easter is a more complicated holiday than it first appears (especially when you consider the […]

  30. Joe Daly says:

    What a fantastic piece. I relate to so much of it. Ironically, it wasn’t until I attended a Jesuit college that I learned about the extent of the unreliability in the quotes and stories in the gospels. Much has been written lately about the Gnostic gospels and how and why information in those accounts were excluded. But there’s not a whole lot of popular dialogue regarding what’s actually in the Bible.

    We’ve got stories that were handed down not just via oral tradition, but over the course of decades (as you note). On top of that, these stories, passed through time via an expansive game of “Telephone,” were also translated through languages that aren’t even spoken anymore- at the very least, not in the form used at that time. Having read some of Luke in the original Greek, it’s scary how many translations into English are actually susceptible to wide array of translation.

    There’s a great book called “Honest to Jesus,” where scholars comment on the likelihood of the quotes attributed to Jesus. Fascinating read. In many cases, it would not have been historically possible for Jesus to actually have said what is quoted by him in the Bible.

    Anyway, I won’t go on- you’ve done a bang up and though-provoking job. Thanks for the terrific read.

    • Thanks Joe. You go on all you want. Only way we’ll get to that popular dialogue you mentioned is lacking, after all. Which it so sadly is. It’s amazing how discussion just shuts down. I sometimes thought that the Bible was like the idea of privilege (among feminist/racial circles, etc.); that just the mention of the word tends to effectively end constructive discussion. Because where do you go from there? When somebody says something like, “Well, all the proof I need is in the Bible,” well, there ain’t a whole lot of possibilities after that point.

      I have to check out “Honest to Jesus” now, if only because what a great title.

  31. Eber says:

    Excellent essay, Will. I didnt have a problem with the Socialist comment since I interpreted as a present day characterization consistent with the story’s character.

    Ive always been fascinated by many of the same things. We really have no true documentation as to who Jesus was or what he said/truly believed as nothing was written down for decades. And really only 1 citation (dubious at that) outside of the NT in documentation of period that he even existed.

    And much of the the NT was written by Paul who was even further removed from Christ and the original following and arguably just this side of John in terms of delusional psychosis. Virgin birth
    and resurrection myths predate Christ (Greek, Persian/Babylonian, Egyptian) . Its most likely these were added during the early branding/marketing phase.

    • Thanks, Eber. That outside-citation you’re referring to would be Josephus, I take it? Yeah, his Jesus “bio” is totally strange at best (and basically ridiculous at worst).

      And Paul. Somedays I wonder if anyone’s done more damage to the ministry of Jesus than Paul. After his “conversion” and “vision.” I mean, it’s great to be passionate about something, but good call on his delusional psychosis. It strikes me as so funny that nowadays we commit people to psychiatric institutions for professional help, but back then we just, you know, started a religion around them.

      I used to think that Jobs was the greatest marketer in the world. Lately, I’ve been wondering if it’s not actually Christianity (TM, all rights reserved).

      • Becky says:

        Ah yes. Unwilling to give the Bible credit as an–at least functional–historical source for Jesus’ life, but it’s perfectly legitimate when it comes to diagnosing complex delusional psychosis from 2000 years away. Makes perfect sense, guys. Carry on.

        • Anon says:

          I don’t really have a horse in this race but, in fairness, “miraculous” tends to require a little more corroborating evidence than “batshit crazy”, which tends to jump right out at you more. Sometimes literally. Of course, I haven’t read any bible in, um, about twenty-five years or so and I have a lunch date in about ten minutes so perhaps I shouldn’t be drawing fire here.

        • I think we meant delusional psychosis in the same way we meant socialist, Becky. Or I did, at least. I’d never attempt to diagnose anyone–and I have a more than passing familiarity with both psychology and the DSM-IV–but I’d pretty much recommend anyone who had a ‘vision’ seek some help. Even if just to understand it.

          I’m not sure where either of us said, here, we didn’t credit the Bible. Eber noted we have little in the way of ‘true’ documentation–which I take to mean primary sources–but didn’t really mention the fallibility of the sources we do have. As I said above, I don’t think the accounts we have are primary, and I’m not sure of their, well, academic viability, for lack of a better phrase, but I’m still reasonably convinced by the extant evidence that the man did, in fact, exist.

          But you really can’t argue that what we have, in terms of account, isn’t basically the early Christianity equivalent of “I heard from my cousin who’s friends with this guy whose girlfriend gets her haircut by someone who goes to a mechanic who said that a guy he knows had a vision of another guy who recently died but came back to life, and that guy said . . .”

          I mean, that’s hyperbole, but only just. Even if you take the accounts of the Bible at their word, they’re mostly anecdotal evidence, aren’t they?

        • Becky says:

          Does it really? Jump right out at you. You learn all about the author from a book?

          What, then, is the differential diagnosis on Homer, since we’re at it?

        • Anon says:

          Greek stoner. Next question.

        • Heh. Wouldn’t Greek stoner apply to Revelations/Gospel-John as well?

          Seriously, what was that dude on?

  32. Becky says:

    “And much of the the NT was written by Paul who was even further removed from Christ and the original following and arguably just this side of John in terms of delusional psychosis.”

    I took this to mean that Paul’s writings, as they appear in the bible, are the ground for the diagnosis of psychosis.

    Maybe you are arguing that Eber was using some other reference pertaining to Paul’s mental health that he just didn’t bother to make us privy to?

    • Well. Okay.

      Psychosis in Greek means “abnormal condition of the mind.” If the NT is taken at its word, Paul’s story is that he was a regular guy who, on his way to Damascus, right there in the middle of the road, had a “vision” of Jesus, who’d died at some point prior. By this “vision” he was struck blind and spent several weeks recuperating (nearly in a coma, if my memory of the account serves), and afterward he sought Peter, became something of a secretary to Peter, and wrote letters to whole towns telling them how they were wrong and evil and that they should repent.

      So by the Biblical account, we have hallucination, delusions of grandeur, arguably some narcissism, possibly some dissociative tendencies, and probably an inability to distinguish reality from fantasy. Not to mention the physiological effects, which might indicate the hallucination could have been a result of, say, a clot or an aneurysm.

      I mean, I wouldn’t profess to clinical diagnosis. Hell, I say delusions of grandeur, narcissism, dissociative tendencies, and an inability to distinguish reality from fantasy and I may as well be talking about myself.

      So who knows?

      • Becky says:

        Well that’s exactly my point. Why do you take THIS biblical story at it’s word, but not others? I mean, you should make up your mind. Right now, it appears you’re willing to accept it as long as it suits your argument, but if it doesn’t, you reject it. Besides, you’re jumping to conclusions. Mental illness isn’t the only thing that causes hallucinations/visions. Frankly, with blindness and coma, my first guess would be seizure or stroke or something to that effect.

        Point is, you’re cherry picking.

        • I see it more as accepting as reasonable that which is but requiring more evidence for acceptance of that which is not. The Biblical stories I have the biggest problems accepting as told–at least in terms of this discussion–are the resurrection and virgin birth.

          Why?

          Well, because people have lived and died for ages. People in Jesus’ time often preached. People could overturn tables. People have had mental illnesses (or strokes or blindness or coma or anything).

          People have not, in general, been conceived as not by two parents, nor been resurrected. Dead is dead barring some extraordinary, exceptional stories of medicine. But it’s not like we think everyone who was accidentally buried and then walked out of his/her tomb/grave was the Son of God (TM, C, registered trademark, all rights reserved, etc.).

          Really, the divinity thing is pretty much my biggest issue.

          When I grade my students’ papers, there are often basic facts/details for which I wouldn’t require citation, but if they make a giant, bold claim, I generally ask what evidence they have of it, what their support is. That’s pretty much all I’m doing here. A dude lived and taught and died at the time of Herod and Pilate: sure, okay. Lots of people did. A dude lived and taught and died and then came back from the dead because he was the Son of God? I’m gonna need a little more support there, sorry.

  33. Becky says:

    You’re saying it’s accepted fact that Paul was delusional?

  34. Eber says:

    Given that Paul claims to have received his lifes mission from a vision of a guy he didnt know who died several years before that, quits his job as the hired persecutor of the dead guys followers, then goes on the have a debate with two guys that actually knew and worked with the dead guy – one identified as his brother- claiming that he knows better the teachings and intent of the dead guys ministry – yeah, I would say that guy is delusional, and possibly psychotic whether hes a fictional character or a victim of poorly sourced non-fiction.

    The fact that he later appears to have penned several often bizarre sermons and became the principle framer of a new religion based on the teachings (and breaking from the religion) of the dead guy, I agree does not necessarily imply delusion. To the contrary he could well have been a brilliant charlatan. He could have just been the Joseph Smith or L. Ron Hubbard of his day.

    • Becky says:

      Too bad for Joseph Smith and L. Ron that we’re on to their sort now, thanks to the obvious psychosis of Homer and Paul…

      Er.

      Wait.

      Gosh. Apparently people don’t give a shit.

  35. Becky says:

    And the issue of faith as a topic in and of itself is a place this post hasn’t gone–at least in part because it’s pointless. But nevertheless, you’ve had refuters of institutional religion as long as there has been institutional religion, and certainly in Western Civilization, actively and consistently, since the Enlightenment. But people, on the whole, just don’t seem to give a shit. There doesn’t appear to be much to be done about it. People are simply not interested in giving it up, even when they’re very well educated.

    I mean, there’s an apparent integration of religion and religiosity into the human psyche that no amount of scientific knowledge or advancement has thusfar been able to undo. If science changes, religion changes. Trying to outrun religion is like trying to outrun your own heels, it would appear.

    • There, I think, I’d try to make a distinction between faith and religious belief, at least for me, personally. Especially considering that final sentence there: that “if science changes, religion changes.” For me, I gave up most of the tenets of organized anything during my twenties, beginning with the study of theology I mentioned in the post but continuing through several years. It was never a quick process, and mostly didn’t come with much in the way of epiphany, I don’t think.

      But I know that the more I learned about science, the more I studied quantum mechanics/physics, the more I saw some reconciliation with some concept of God (there are, admittedly, many) and science. I even go so far as to think there is evidence and logical reason for the degree to which faith seems integrated into the human psyche, which is related to nervous stimulation and an idea of God as a profluent energy in the universe. I have a working theory I’m trying to build that, for me, makes a lot of sense, and actually makes connections between quantum physics, God, and the afterlife. I think society’s present conceptions of at least the latter two are fundamentally flawed–at least in that the idea of a gendered God overseeing things or a Heaven of clouds and harps has no real evidence–but I also think there are underpinnings of both ideas that make sense in a scientific sense.

      • Becky says:

        So you’ll be creating a new religion then, or the theory for one?

        Or it won’t be an organized one, since you don’t want adherents or believers and there won’t be any actual tenets?

        Or it will explain everything so completely, belief won’t enter into it?

        In any event, your quest, at some level, seems to support my statement that when science changes, religion changes to accommodate.

        An objection to clouds and harps and a gendered God is a waste of time. That’s nothing more than the symbolic depiction of complex metaphors. The manifestations of a cultural need to present abstract concepts in a recognizable way.

        The metaphor, not its depiction, should be your concern.

        Have fun storming the castle.

  36. Eber says:

    Well Religion’s control over civilization(s) ( the more advanced ones among us anyway) has loosened considerably over the past century. Agnosticism and Atheism enjoys improving growth with each generation in the industrialized world. If the species can survive its overpopulating warring self, maybe we’ll actually grow up someday and relegate all the god myths to the horoscope section of the Ipad. That is unless certain religious factions succeed in their quest to pull us all back into the dark ages.

    • Becky says:

      It will all be replaced, in different ways, with belief/adherence/zealotry in something else.

      The big benefit when it comes to ancient books and divinity is that it is only negotiable to a point. It has a greater level of consistency and stability, regardless of its propensity for adaptation. Shared religion is also a major source of cultural and cross-cultural cooperation and cohesion, as much as some people prefer to characterize it as a purely antagonistic cultural factor.

      If you base your agnostic or atheist “religion” (in the sense that it delineates morals, indicates a cosmology and a theory of human nature, etc.) on, say, Kant, the alleged advantage–he is just a man and can be disregarded as such by anyone who disagrees with him–is actually a weakness.

      Why is Kant (or insert your preferred philosopher/thinker’s name), practically an ignoramus by today’s standards of scientific and general knowledge, more qualified than me to declare what is right and wrong?

      And if he is not qualified, who is? Are you? Is Will? I mean, there’s a real potential for a sort of philosophical tribalism here, which in turn carries with it the potential for more, not less, ideological conflict. The fact of the matter is that people use religions as an excuse for their combative, violent, controlling, or similarly unpleasant tendencies, but those tendencies will remain with or without an official God.

      Plainly, if we were ever able to get rid of God, we would quickly recreate him.

      Eber, you’re always talking about humans evolving beyond some need for this kind of thing, but what I hear when you say that is that the feasibility of your humanist utopia is basically dependent on humans no longer being human. I mean, great. Okay. But if our brains actually change, fundamentally, in such a way that we no longer have the tendencies that lead to religion and faith, you’re potentially talking about the disappearance of social tendencies altogether.

  37. Carl D'Agostino says:

    BA/MA History and Religion, retired 34 years high school American history teacher.

    Re: The Second Coming

    I have embraced this concept not as an event but as a never ending process. Every time an addict recovers healed by Jesus, a criminal becomes a social worker led by Jesus, or as simple as a person receiving Christ as the Light in their life, Jesus comes again. And he comes again and again and again every time one of the aforementioned events occurs.
    I am a Presbyterian but did my grad work at Barry College, a Catholic university here in Miami. If he is your college professor, the definition of a Jesuit is a man trained at the highest and most complete level of academics who will make you learn a million times more than any lay professor, embarrass you if you’re negligent in your studies, and makes you glad you learned it all in the end. If so commissioned he will also leave it all to minister to a squalid village in Guatemala full of Christ and joy to so serve.

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