Saturday, February 28, 2015

New book by Frank Turek

I have a little time to myself this morning.  Rosemary is at work, I am feeling too lazy for my usual Saturday morning desert run, so let's sit at the computer and see what Bruce Gerencser has to say.  I have recently re-discovered his blog.  Among other things, he has lately become a news aggregator from Fundamentalist websites and magazines.

Hmm.. HERE is one.

Frank Turek, "one the nation’s leading Christian apologists", is plugging his new book through an interview at World Magazine.  The book's title, "Stealing From God: Why Atheists Need God to Make Their Case" makes it sound like God Himself will make the case for atheism.  But no, after reading the interview, it turns out that Frank Turek is claiming that atheists cannot claim to make an intellectual argument against God without using logic and reason.  Since God made logic and reason, then we can't consistently use those tools to argue against His existence. 

Bruce Gerencser makes a good point about the automatic assumption that God means The Christian God.  Every argument that Mr Turek makes can just as easily be used to argue for a deity of pretty much any arbitrary religion.  Bruce makes a good point, and I have lately gotten sensitive to that also.  I have been trying to get into the habit of calling Him the Christian Deity, but strictly speaking this Deity does have a name.  His name is given in Scripture.  Jehovah.  YHVH.  Yahveh.  I have rarely heard Christians use this name to refer to their Deity.  I suspect I know why.  Giving the Deity a name closes the gap that Christians perceive exists between their Deity and the deities of every other religion.  Krishna.  Thor.  Zeus.  Allah.  Jehovah.  In order to separate their chosen Deity from all the rest, Christians have inadvertently co-opted the generic term 'god' for the defacto name of Jehovah.  This has the implied effect of discounting all other gods as frauds and imposters.  I know I have absolutely no say in this matter, but I am in favor of calling the Christian by His given name.  His name is Jehovah!

But besides that, Frank Turek's interview at World Magazine is the usual bullet points against atheists.  The inverview is HERE:

*Our public school system assumes there is no god.
*The existence of 'good' is proof of the existence of God (again - implying the specific existence of Jehovah).
*if God doesn’t exist, there is no real objective purpose to life and people can do whatever they want.
*Evil exists because God gives us free will.
*Biblical faith is believing that something is true because you have evidence and then trusting in the implications of that evidence.  (Contrary to everything I was taught as a Christian.  I call this the necessary redefinition of Faith for a skeptical, post-internet generation.)
*We cannot even try to disprove the existence of God without the logical tools that God created!
*Atheists believe in atheism without evidence.
*There cannot be a creation without a creator, or laws without a lawgiver.
*We follow a moral law written on our hearts.
*Atheists have no true intellectual objections to God.  They only have moral objections.
*Atheists claim they do not believe because they rebel against the moral code written on our hearts
*It takes more Faith to be an atheist than it does to be a Christian.

I have only vaguely heard of Frank Turek before reading this article, but outside of his definition of Faith, he sounds no different from the scads of Christian apologists I read and listened to when I was a Christian.  It is the same crap.  I do not know if a Christian apologist has the easiest or hardest job in the world.  If I can take the cue of this interview of Frank Turek "one the nation’s leading Christian apologists", apologists only have to repeat the same bullet points over and over and over again.  Sounds like an easy way to make a living to me.  On the other hand, they have to say it and sound believable, which may be the toughest job in the world.

I could make a quick argument against each of those bullet points, but I am having some people over later today and I have to get the ribs marinated and the barbeque ready.  But I do have time for just this.  I do not typically call myself an atheist, but I will when I know I am explicitly referenced in an argument.  This is the time. 

Why am I an atheist?  I do not believe.  I do not believe your Jehovah exists.  I do not believe the claims you are making that He is the author of all logic, all reasoning and all morality. 

That is it.  I am done.  I offered no logical argument in defense of any 'atheistic worldview' that I may have.  I do not have to answer to you.  I don't have to logically respond to a used car salesman when he is trying to sell me a clunker.  I see the clunker, I say no thanks, and I am done.  No Faith is involved.  Non-belief if effortless.  I do not pray or chant to myself everyday in the attempt to bolster my Faith in Atheism.  I do not read science books or search science blogs in the attempt to respond to your theistic claims.

No.  I just don't believe you.  It is done.  End of story.

I do not have to know the answer to how the universe began.  I do not have to know how life began.  I do not have to know a blasted thing about Darwin or Evolution.  I do not have to know where morality came from.  Christian Apologist, why do you expect me to know all this stuff?  Why do you expect me to be an expert in cosmology, biology, information science, New Testament and Church history, and have a ready answer to any question you might try to stump me with? 

I don't know this stuff.  I am curious and read a lot.  But there is no way I can possibly know all this stuff.  And I don't have to.

I just don't believe you.  Just like you automatically do no believe the claims of any religious apologist that is outside of your own religious tradition.  No justification is needed.  No reasoning is necessary.  You do not believe them.  And I do not believe you.

Done.  I am hungry.  Friends are coming over.  Time to prep the barbeque.

Friday, February 27, 2015

New Testament Narrative as Old Testament Midrash: 1-3

Continuing review - The Christ Myth Theory and its Problems by Robert M. Price
New Testament Narrative as Old Testament Midrash: 1-3

If you have no idea what this article is about - please read THIS.

Robert Price has published his article, New Testament Narrative as Old Testament Midrash on his website.  You can follow along HERE.  The article is expanded by including lengthy citations from the Old and New Testaments for easy comparison and analysis.  Since Dr. Price has put this on his website for public consumption, I do not mind reviewing it in a little more detail than I normally would.  So we have got about 300 pages of Old Testament midrash to slog through, so we better get started.  Dr. Price starts with the Gospel of Mark.  Let’s see how far I get:

1. Introduction Mark 1:1-3

1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 As it is written in the Prophets:
“Behold, I send My messenger before Your face,
Who will prepare Your way before You.”
3 “The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
Make His paths straight.’”

The Gospel of Mark is likely the first gospel written, and if so, this is the prologue that introduced Jesus to the world.  Who did the author of this prologue think he was writing about?  Was he writing a history as he witnessed it, or was he writing history as he divined it from ancient scriptures?  “ it is written in the prophets…”  It looks to me like he is stating the source of his information up front.  It reads more like a creed or statement of Faith than an eyewitness source.  So what would be a sure sign that this New Testament narrative is derived from Old Testament midrash?  A phrase like “ it is written in the prophets…” could not make it more explicit.  This is explicitly telling the reader that the passage in front of everything is coming from the Prophet Isaiah.  Phrases like this seal the deal for me.  Dr. Price explains that the Evangelist Mark cobbled this prologue together from a variety of places, not just the Prophet Isaiah: Malachi 3:1, Exodus 23:20 and Isaiah 40:3.  With this explicit reference, there is no doubting that the introduction to the Gospel of Mark is composed entirely from various Old Testament passages.

2. Jesus’ Baptism Mark 1:9-11

The Gospel of Mark is likely the first Gospel ever written about Jesus.  As such, there is no story of his birth or childhood.  No idea of Bethlehem, his parents, wise gift-bearing magi, or mangers.  The story opens with Jesus being baptized by John, followed by an epiphany from the Heavens and the Spirit descending on Him.  Is this history?  Is it allegory?  Is it history derived from Old Testament Scriptures?

Nothing is explicitly referenced from the Old Testament, but Price instead gives several possibilities as a source.  Among these is a tradition in which the Persian Prophet Zoroaster baptizes himself in service of the god Ahura Mazda, and another Jewish tradition of Isaac, bound on an altar by his father, sees the heavens opened, with adornment from angels and a proclamation from God.  hmmm.   I have two objections.  I do wish Price would have cited the sources of this kind of non-Christian, non-canonical material.  I admit that this may simply be due to a non-standardized citation format for this kind of material, but it would have been useful to reference some original source, so that the reader can evaluate what Dr. Price is presenting.  I cannot imagine that it is very difficult thing to do when most all scriptures of every world religion, including Persian Zoroastrianism is now open source material and easily available online.  You can view the wealth of available Zoroastrian material HERE

My second objection is more problematic.  Assuming Price’s working model of midrash, why would the Christian author use Persian and Zoroastrian traditions outside of the milieu of Jewish sacred scripture and tradition?  I understand that new religious beliefs and traditions are formed from the syncratic mixing of various religious influences.  But this syncretism is a subtle process, and only obvious in hindsight.  I do think that the Zoroastrian religion did influence the Christian religion, but I do think it was more a product of cultural mixing than explicit citation and borrowing of religious texts.  Besides, I don’t think you need Zoroastrianism to explain the presence of baptism in Christianity.  It seems more probable to me that the religious ritual and symbolism of baptism is shared among many cultures as an obvious symbol of cleaning and rebirth.

Price does give more explicit Old Testament references that may have been combined by the Evangelist (e.g. Psalm 2:7, Isaiah 42:1, Genesis 22:12), and this gives us a stronger claim to midrash.  In fact, had Price not diluted his argument by including Zoroastrian and Targum traditions, I may have given this a grade of A.  See how subjective my whole ridiculous grading system is?  GRADE: C

3. The Temptations  Mark 1:12-13 ; 1 Kings 19:5-8
Jesus was in the wilderness for forty days and tempted of the Devil.  Moses was in the desert of Midian for - guess how long? Forty years is implied.  And after Elijah stomped on the prophets of Baal, guess how long before his sojourn to Mt. Horeb? (1 Kings 19:5-8)  You guessed it - forty days and forty nights!  It immediately strikes me that during my time as a Fundamentalist, I would have called this an instance of typology.  In fact, my church taught regularly taught that Old Testament references to things like forty days were there to foreshadow events in the life of Jesus.  Apologists like Herbert Lockyer called it Messianic Prophecy.   In fact, I suspect that as I go through this chapter in Dr. Price’s book, much of what Price will reference as cases of midrash are already well known to Fundamentalists.  We noticed ‘forty days’ in the Old Testament too.  We just thought it was validation of the Bible’s inspired nature, and divine origin.  Price argues that it is just tapping the wellspring of  sacred tradition.  The parallels to Mark 1:12-13 in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke have Jesus quoting Deuteronomy in his three rebuttals to the Devil.  Price notes that the three passages refer to “trials of the people of Israel in the wilderness (the manna, Massa, and idolatry), which they failed, but which Jesus, embodying a new Israel, passes with flying colors” (p. 65).  I find this contrast striking and I think it must be intentional from the Evangelists Matthew and Luke.  It would be even more convincing to me if a pattern could be demonstrated where Jesus always succeeds where the sinful people of Israel failed.

Can't get enough?  Loads more of this kind of stuff coming soon.

The Christ-Myth Theory and Its Problems - Book discussion

The Christ-Myth Theory and Its Problems, by Robert M. Price

Book discussion and Table of Contents

I feel like doing a detailed discussion of this book by Robert Price simply because I do not see much critical analysis of his work from a non-Christian perspective.  The usual disclaimers apply.  I am not schooled in this area, and I am not a professional critic.  I am just an interested and somewhat informed amateur.  As of now I only blog occasionally, so this long book review may take some time to complete.  I will update this Table of Contents when necessary.

It would be great if you could follow along!  You may purchase The Christ-Myth Theory and its Problems HERE.

(note: I don’t make a dime if you click on that link.  Buy it anywhere you want.  Or don’t buy it at all)

Click on the links to read what I think of the book so far.  I welcome any comments or discussions:

1 - Review - The Christ Myth Theory and its Problems 
2 - Review - The Quest of the Mythical Jesus 
3 - Review - Jesus at the Vanishing Point - part 1 
4 - Review - Jesus at the Vanishing Point - part 2 
5 - Review - New Testament Narrative as Old Testament Midrash - my initial thoughts