Anti-christians play at lamenting biblical illiteracy

December 28, 2013

One instance I would brush off — particularly coming from MSNBC — but when I see two in one day, I wonder if I’m seeing a new narrative from the anti-Christian left. That narrative is that Christians aren’t being true to the Bible, because of biblical illiteracy.

To be sure: it’s true that Christians, being sinners, are not true to the Bible. It’s also true that biblical literacy, even among Christians, is nowhere near where it ought to be. (I include myself in that generalization.) And it’s even true that Christians would be more true to the Bible if they were better familiar with it.

All that said, the thesis of these two pieces is that the practices and beliefs of Christians are contraindicated by the Bible, which Christians would know if they were only more biblically literate. That thesis is wholly unsupported by the evidence the two pieces are able to muster.

First, there’s MSNBC, which had a piece attacking Sarah Palin because she has a Christmas tree. (Seriously, you hate Sarah Palin so you go after her through her Christmas tree?! Bizarre.) Now it’s true that the Christmas tree, like many of our modern Christmas traditions, is not Biblical, and some Christians have chosen to eschew them for that reason. But MSNBC is trying to make a different point, claiming that the Bible actually forbids them.

As their proof text, MSNBC cites “Jeremiah 10-10”. So right off the bat, they’re doing a poor job at feigning biblical literacy; less significantly by using a hyphen in the scripture reference in place of a colon, but more significantly because the passage they go on to quote is actually Jeremiah 10:3-5, which begins:

For the practices of the peoples are worthless; they cut a tree out of the forest, and a craftsman shapes it with his chisel. They adorn it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so it will not totter. Like a scarecrow in a cucumber field, their idols cannot speak; they must be carried because the cannot walk.

Superficially, this sounds sort of like a Christmas tree: a tree adorned with silver and gold. But to make that interpretation work, you have to ignore the part about shaping it with a chisel. That makes it clear that the passage is talking about fashioning a wooden idol, which the final sentence makes explicit. (Isaiah 40:20 has a similar description of a wooden idol.)

I hadn’t heard this particular notion before, but apparently it’s been out there for some time. Billy Graham even has a web page rebutting it. (Via Newsbusters.) As long as you’re not worshiping the tree as an idol, you’re okay, and the tree can even have some positive symbolism.

So MSNBC runs this piece attacking Sarah Palin’s religious practices — and, in passing, everyone who gets a Christmas tree — but doesn’t think to verify the Bible reference they cite, or do the slightest amount of research to determine if their thesis holds any water.

Second, is a piece at Alternet (a left-wing site similar to Daily Kos but with greater pretense to journalism and scholarship), the thesis of which is that “the right” (by which he apparently means Christian conservatives) are biblically illiterate, or they wouldn’t hold the views they do:

Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly defended the Republican Party’s spending cuts for SNAP by effectively declaring Jesus would not support food stamps for the poor because most them are drug addicts. If his insensitive remark is inconsistent with Scripture, which it is, then the question becomes why do talking heads on the right get away with proclaiming what Jesus would or wouldn’t support?

The answer is simple: Conservatives have not read the Bible.

I don’t know what Bill O’Reilly actually said. The piece doesn’t link him, which is an indication that the author is probably not quoting him fairly. The weasel-word “effectively” is another indication. Moreover, O’Reilly is not known as a Christian conservative. So let’s leave O’Reilly out of it and focus on the evidence the piece manages to muster.

The piece rambles a lot. There’s some weak argument about how Jesus’s actual positions lend themselves more to liberalism than conservatism (he is entitled to his opinion). It quotes some some poll results, which, like all polls on questions of fact, are dismaying. But, being a poll of Americans in general, it doesn’t tell us much about the biblical illiteracy of Christian conservatives. There’s some general libel about how conservatives killed Jesus and are also like Nazis. And there’s an attack on the Koch brothers, which I guess is de rigeur for a leftist screed these days.

The meat of the argument, such as it is, is this:

For instance, when Republicans were justifying their cuts to the food stamp program, they quoted 2 Thessalonians: “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.” One poll showed that more than 90 percent of Christians believe this New Testament quote is attributed to Jesus. It’s not. This was taken from a letter written by Paul to his church in Thessalonica. Paul wrote to this specific congregation to remind them that if they didn’t help build the church in Thessalonica, they wouldn’t be paid. The letter also happens to be a fraud. Surprise! Biblical scholars agree it’s a forgery written by someone pretending to be Paul.

Let’s just take all this in order: I don’t know any Republican who actually said that in regard to food stamps, but never mind that. I don’t believe that 90% of Christians attribute that verse to Jesus, but I do believe that 90% of Christians view the New Testament as divinely inspired whether it’s in red letter or not (2Ti 3:16).

2 Thessalonians 3:7(b)-10 reads:

We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”

There’s no textual support here whatsoever for the proposition that Paul was talking about paying for church construction.

And what about the supposed fakery of the book? The statement that biblical scholars agree it’s a forgery is simply a lie. In fact, although some have questioned Pauline authorship (due to differences in style and eschatology from Paul’s other writings), most agree that Paul did write it. (Certainly all don’t agree that he didn’t!)  And if he didn’t, it easily could have been written by Silas or Timothy, who are listed as the epistle’s co-authors.

Furthermore, note the construction: “For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule.” This is something Paul had already said before. Even if the book were a fake, it is quoting an earlier statement that Paul did make; if he hadn’t, the book never could have fooled the church at Thessalonica.

Moreover, even if we were to throw out 2 Thessalonians, what about 1 Thessalonians 4:11? It reads:

Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.

This is a similar message to 2Th 3:7-10, and the authenticity of 1 Thessalonians is unquestioned even by progressives.

The piece is strange, and fundamentally dishonest, because the author (one CJ Werleman) feigns to decry biblical illiteracy, while in fact he hates the bible. He is a militant atheist with his very own book in the the-bible-is-full-of-lies-and-atrocities genre that is so popular with militant atheists. And he can’t hide his animus in the piece, producing bits like this:

The best argument against a historical Jesus is the fact that none of his disciples left us with a single record or document regarding Jesus or his teachings. So, who were the gospel writers? The short answer is we don’t know. What we do know is that not only had none of them met Jesus, but also they never met the people who had allegedly met Jesus.

This is entirely untrue. Matthew and John were Jesus’s disciples. Luke never met Jesus, but travelled with Paul, who did. The authorship of Mark is not certain, but the early church universally believed it was written by John Mark, an associate of Peter. Furthermore, many believe that the young man of Mark 14:51 was the author (otherwise its inclusion is hard to explain), which would make him an eyewitness. So at least two and possibly three of the gospels were written by eyewitnesses, and all four are written by people who met the apostles.

Of course, some of these facts are contested by progressive theologians, but adopting the well-supported, traditional view hardly constitutes biblical illiteracy.

In our modern political discourse, there are few things so tedious as people who don’t believe something (e.g., the truth of the Bible, or libertarianism), and don’t understand it, lecturing those who do believe on what that belief should imply. Not only do they fail to understand the nuances of those views, and they frequently fail to understand that there even are nuances.

But the point isn’t to convince the believers, it’s to attack them. Do they care if Sarah Palin has a Christmas tree? No. Do they care what Christian conservatives believe? Yes, but they don’t expect it to change, and they’re certainly not trying to change it here. But they do want people to hate Sarah Palin, and Christian conservatives, like they do.

Lie down with dogs, get up with fleas

February 10, 2012

Churches that offered shelter to Occupy Wall Street protesters are dealing with theft, vandalism, and desecration.

The church’s mission is not class warfare, nor is it to give shelter to people who have homes but choose not to use them. The money spent accommodating Occupiers, and repairing the damage Occupiers did, could have been spent on the truly needy, or on spreading the Gospel. They should have known better.

Church in the Hanoi Hilton

August 29, 2010

A moving story of faith and resistance among Vietnam POWs.

Obama gets religion

August 22, 2009

The New York Post reports:

Repeatedly invoking the Bible, President Obama yesterday told religious leaders that health-care critics are “bearing false witness” against his plan. . .

He said the reforms aim to carry out one of God’s commandments.

“I am my brother’s keeper. I am my sister’s keeper,” Obama said.

He called health reform a “core ethical and moral obligation.”

(Via Power Line.)

Remember how the left cried that we were a hair’s breadth from theocracy whenever President Bush used religious language?

BONUS SNARK: President Obama is his brother’s keeper? Hmm. Obama’s brother lives in a hut in a Kenyan shanty town. Is that how he carries out a “core ethical and moral obligation”? I’d rather keep myself, thanks. (Via Althouse.)

POSTSCRIPT: Andrew Klavan makes another important point:

According to Ben Smith over at Politico, President Barack Obama gave some theological weight to his health care plan during a phone call to a group of Rabbis the other day. Referring to the belief that God decides during the Jewish New Year “who shall live and who shall die,” Obama told the rebs, “We are God’s partners in matters of life and death.”

In response to this statement I would like to make a subtle theological point: No, we’re not. For those of you who aren’t versed in the finer points of theology, let me try to simplify that for you: No. We’re not. Or to put it even more simply: No. We. Are. Not.

(Via Instapundit.)

Screwtape on flippancy

July 31, 2009

Jay Nordlinger, at the Corner, has written a lot about the diminishing number of safe zones, places where people of different political persuasions can interact amiably. One big non-safe-zone is academia, where the majority ideology tends to be liberal, and where liberals delight in injecting political attacks into matters having nothing to do with politics.

Case in point: At a faculty meeting yesterday, we were discussing the process by which the department would fill an important position that is soon to become vacant. One person joked that Sarah Palin should get the job. Most of the room dutifully laughed.

I was perplexed. The joke was not at all funny, it was just weird. Sarah Palin is just one of countless people who would be inappropriate for the job, and who wouldn’t want it, and who weren’t relevant to the conversation. It would have made just as much sense to joke that Sidney Crosby should get the job, or any other name one might draw from a hat.

So why does the Sarah Palin “joke” elicit a laugh, while the Sidney Crosby “joke” would presumably elicit only an uncomfortable silence? I think that members of this particular political mindset have been conditioned to believe that Sarah Palin is inherently funny. Her very name is a joke for all contexts.

I was reminded of what C. S. Lewis wrote about flippancy in the Screwtape Letters. For any readers who may not be familiar with the Screwtape Letters (I like to pretend), they are a series of letters written by a senior devil to a junior devil, giving advice on how to tempt a young man away from the “Enemy” (i.e., God). In chapter eleven, Uncle Screwtape takes on the topic of laughter and recommends flippancy as the best form for the devils’ purposes:

But flippancy is the best of all. In the first place it is very economical. Only a clever human can make a real Joke about virtue, or indeed about anything else; any of them can be trained to talk as if virtue were funny. Among flippant people the Joke is always assumed to have been made. No one actually makes it; but every serious subject is discussed in a manner which implies that they have already found a ridiculous side to it. If prolonged, the habit of Flippancy builds up around a man the finest armour plating against the Enemy that I know, and it is quite free from the dangers inherent in the other sources of laughter. It is a thousand miles away from joy; it deadens, instead of sharpening, the intellect; and it excites no affection between those who practise it.

The presiding heretic speaks

July 9, 2009

At her opening address at the Episcopal Church convention, Katharine Schori outdoes herself with her strangest pronouncement yet:

The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church called the evangelical notion that individuals can be right with God a “great Western heresy” that is behind many problems facing the church and the wider society.

Describing a United States church in crisis, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori told delegates to the group’s triennial meeting July 8 in Anaheim, Calif., that the overarching connection to problems facing Episcopalians has to do with “the great Western heresy — that we can be saved as individuals, that any of us alone can be in right relationship with God.”

“It’s caricatured in some quarters by insisting that salvation depends on reciting a specific verbal formula about Jesus,” Jefferts Schori, the first woman to be elected as a primate in the worldwide Anglican Communion three years ago, said. “That individualist focus is a form of idolatry, for it puts me and my words in the place that only God can occupy, at the center of existence, as the ground of being.”

I can’t claim that I actually understand what she is talking about (and reading the full text of her address doesn’t help), but I’m gobsmacked by her statement that none “of us alone can be in right relationship with God,” and to claim otherwise is the “great Western heresy.”

Here’s one of many things that Paul (the great Western heretic) had to say on the subject (Romans 10:9-11):

If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.

Paul here describes salvation as an individual matter, brought about (now that Jesus’s redemptive work is done) by my own heart and my own mouth.

In the parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13), Jesus (another great Western heretic) makes it clear that we are not admitted to the kingdom of heaven as a community. He tells of ten virgins, five of whom were admitted to the wedding banquet and five of whom were turned away, based on their individual choices.

Measured against these teachings are the scripture references that Schori cited in her address:


That’s right, not a since scripture reference in her entire address. She accused the Western world of a highly dubious heresy, without citing a single line of scripture to support her case.

Now, if she wanted to emphasize the importance of community and unity, she could be on solid footing. I would suggest that if she wants to build Christian community, a good way to start would be to stop suing other Christians. (Paul has some thoughts on the matter of his own, in 1 Corinthinians 6:1-8.)

POSTSCRIPT: The “individual salvation is heresy” line is the one getting the most attention, but I think it’s worth noting another line as well:

We Christians often think the only important part of the Jerusalem story is Calvary, and, yes, suffering and killing in that place still seem to be the loudest news. But Calvary was a waypoint in the larger arc of God’s dream – it’s on the way to Jerusalem, it is not in Jerusalem.

Here too, I don’t actually understand what she means, but it sounds like she’s minimizing the importance of the crucifixion, and likening it to modern-day bloodshed in Jerusalem. It’s true that the bible ends in a New Jerusalem, and perhaps that’s what she’s getting at. But the crucifixion, by purchasing our salvation, is the single key event that allows mankind to have anything to do with that happy ending.


June 28, 2009

I’m equal parts pleased and shocked to note that this article, on the inaugural convention of the Anglican Church in North America, is accurate.  Kudos to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for publishing it.  The article notes:

[Members of the new church] believe the Episcopal Church has failed to uphold biblical authority and traditional Christian doctrine on matters ranging from the divinity of Christ to sexual ethics.

Most stories on the schism of the Episcopal Church claim that it is about homosexuality, which isn’t remotely true. Questions about sexual ethics in general, and homosexuality in particular, may well be what most interest the press, but that doesn’t mean that Christians share that emphasis. Christians are much more concerned that the Episcopal Church has broken from basic teachings on the divinity of Christ, the sin of mankind, and the significance of the crucifixion for achieving our redemption from sin. A church that discards those teachings, as the Episcopal Church has, is no longer Christian at all.

Zen Buddhist to become Episcopal bishop

January 27, 2009

Stories like this are why orthodox Christians are leaving the Episcopal Church.

The Anglican Church in North America

December 3, 2008

I heard a report about this on NPR today (no link, sorry) that managed to get nearly every detail wrong. Here’s what happened today: No one broke away from the Episcopal Church today. North American churches that had already broken away from the Episcopal Church (or its Canadian analogue) had switched their allegiance to Anglican provinces in South America and Africa. It was an awkward arrangement to have North American churches belong to faraway provinces, so today those churches agreed to join together to form a new North American province.

The reason those churches had left the Episcopal Church had essentially nothing to do with sexuality. It had to do with the Episcopal Church’s abandonment of key Christian doctrines such as sin, redemption, and the authority of scripture. (As an indication of how bad things had gotten, read this and this.) It also had to do with the Episcopal Church’s contempt for its orthodox minority, most notably displayed by deposing the Bishop of Pittsburgh in violation of the procedures given in church canons. Issues of sexuality are one symptom of the problem, but by themselves would probably (there’s no way to know now) have never led to a major exodus from the Episcopal Church.

It’s true that the Episcopal Church will probably initiate a court battle to try to confiscate the property of breakaway churches, but this was already an inevitability when those churches left the Episcopal Church. Today’s action changed nothing. Also, any churches that join the new province from elsewhere do not have their property at risk. The same is true for the churches that have already won their legal battles with the Episcopal Church.

The one thing that NPR got right was it is unclear whether the Archbishop of Canterbury will recognize the new province, but the more important question is whether the Anglican primates recognize it. Under the Anglican Church’s unusual structure, the voting power of provinces is entirely uncorrelated with their size. Thus, the global south (which is overwhelmingly orthodox) has the vast majority of the people, but a minority of voting power. It will be very interesting to see whether the progressive primates (who control the Anglican Church despite representing a small minority of its members) press their advantage. If they do, there may well be schism, which would leave a rump Anglican Church and a new orthodox denomination with nearly all its people.

New Anglican province to launch December 3

November 18, 2008

So reports Virtue Online:

The new American province will launch on December 2-3 in Wheaton, IL, when the Council of the Common Cause Partnership will receive and likely commend a draft constitution and canons for the new province. If this is done, the formal announcement of the new province will take place at a service on the evening of 3rd December.

Recognition of the new province by the majority of the Anglican primates is a forgone conclusion, but it’s not entirely clear what Rowan Williams will do.  I think he will probably recognize the new province to avoid a larger rift in the Anglican communion, but he might try to strike some compromise position.  (It’s hard to compromise on a binary decision, but one shouldn’t underestimate human creativity.)

Barring a change of heart on the part of the Episcopal Church, the two American provinces will be in litigation for years.

The presiding heretic speaks

November 3, 2008

In a Q&A session with Katharine Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, she takes her universalism to the next level:

A few said their fellow parishioners wonder whether the presiding bishop sees Jesus Christ as the sole way to salvation.

Jefferts Schori replied that like most Christians, she believes Jesus died for “the whole world.” But his life and resurrection did not sever the promise God made to Jews and to Muslims, she added, and those groups still have access to salvation.

Now, universalism from Schori is nothing new, but this is the first time I’m aware of her speaking of God making a promise to Muslims.

Christianity does not recognize any promise made to Muslims (per se).  (Jews are another matter altogether.)  To the contrary, Galatians 1:6-9 specifically condemns any future revelation (e.g., the Koran) that opposes the gospel.  So the only way this could possibly make sense is if Schori was referring to everyone, which is hard to reconcile with her specific listing of Jews and Muslims, much less her reference to “those groups.”

But more than that, Schori’s statement is bizarrely anachronistic.  Jesus’s (earthly) life and resurrection predated Islam by centuries, so it makes no sense at all to refer to him severing any promise made to Muslims, even if we suppose that such a promise later existed.

Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh votes to realign

October 5, 2008

The Anglican Church is a peculiar one. It is the official church of England and headquartered in London, but most of its adherents are outside the English-speaking world (especially Africa). It is a worldwide denomination without any centralized authority. Its nominal leader, Rowan Williams, was appointed by a British politician, Tony Blair, who happens to be Catholic. Overall, it is strongly orthodox, but it has a powerful non-orthodox minority.

All these factors contribute to the crisis that now exists in the Episcopal Church (an American branch of the Anglican church). Within the Episcopal Church, orthodox Christians (who hold traditional Christian positions on the person of Jesus and the authority of the Bible) find themselves in the minority; the majority “progressives” wish to make the faith more compatible with modern views.

Non-Anglicans are most familiar with the conflict over sexuality, but that conflict is merely a sideshow, next to central disagreements over the divinity of Christ, his unique redemptive purpose, the Resurrection, and the authority of the Bible. The conflict has simmered for a long time, and although the consecration of Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire (Robinson divorced his family to live openly with a gay partner) worsened existing divisions, it wasn’t until the election of Katharine Schori as Presiding Bishop that the conflict exploded.

Schori was seen as a compromise candidate, progressive but moderately so. She has proven to be anything but moderate, as she showed in an NPR interview before she even took office:

Christians understand that Jesus is the route to God. Umm– that is not to say that Muslims, or Sikhs, or Jains, come to God in a radically different way. They come to God through… human experience… through human experience of the divine. Christians talk about that in terms of Jesus.

A tolerant and multicultural statement this may be, but a Christian one it is not. Unfortunately, this is just one of Bishop Schori’s many statements denying basic tenets of the Christian faith, and she is far from alone. As just one other example, the Episcopal Bishop of Los Angeles recently apologized to Hindus for Christianity’s efforts to evangelize them.

Anglicanism has a long tradition of “comprehensiveness,” which refers to orthodoxy in central matters but tolerance in secondary ones. Unfortunately, the progressives have moved from secondary issues on to central ones, and their church soon will no longer be recognizable as a Christian one. (Schori’s NPR interviewer insightfully asked “What are you, a Unitarian?” Schori did not answer.)

It was in this context that the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh last year began the process of leaving the Episcopal Church. Several provinces of the Anglican Church offered to accept Pittsburgh into their fold, including the Southern Cone (in South America).

Many were loath to leave the Episcopal Church, feeling that it would be better to remain and try to change it from within. Those voices were undermined, however, by Katharine Schori’s decision to depose Robert Duncan, the bishop of Pittsburgh. Ordinarily, deposition of a bishop requires a trial, but that would have required an actual charge, and would have taken a considerable amount of time. Instead, Schori used a provision called “abandonment of communion,” intended to deal officially with the departure of bishops who had left for the Roman Catholic church. Safeguards exist to prevent a charge of abandonment of communion in controversial cases (such as a bishop who had not yet left), but Schori ruled that those safeguards were inoperable.

In the end, the vote to realign and join the Southern Cone was not close. Clergy voted 121-38, and laity voted 119-72 (including abstentions and spoiled ballots). Vote counters indicated that nearly every swing vote sided with realignment in the end. Archbishop Venables of the Southern Cone immediately moved to welcome the Diocese of Pittsburgh, and appointed Duncan its caretaker bishop until Duncan can officially be re-elected next month.

After the vote, Katharine Schori issued a statement, saying:

“There is room in this Church for all who desire to be members of it.” She also said schism is not an “honored tradition within Anglicanism” and is “frequently been seen as a more egregious error than charges of heresy.”

In other words, unity is more important than truth.

The struggle does not end with the decision to realign. All observers now expect that the Episcopal Church will quickly file suit in secular court to confiscate the property of the Diocese. Historically, church property belonged to individual dioceses, but in 1979 the Episcopal Church passed the Dennis Canon, which asserts that all church property actually belongs to the national church. In 2006, after a lengthy court battle, the Episcopal Church took control of the Church of St. James the Less and shuttered it, and it remains empty today. However, differences in legal circumstances suggest that the Diocese is more likely to prevail in this case.

The media is beginning to understand the nature of the conflict. Although generally still biased against orthodox Christians, they are beginning to understand that the conflict is not about homosexuality, but much more fundamental issues. For example, the New York Times wrote yesterday:

The movement is driven by theologically conservative leaders who believe the church has turned away from traditional biblical teachings on issues like whether Jesus is the son of God and the only way to salvation.

Hamas scion converts to Christianity

August 13, 2008

Fox News has an interview with Mosab Hassan Yousef, the son of a Hamas leader and now a Christian seeking asylum in America.

Zondervan sued for publishing the Bible

July 12, 2008

A man who doesn’t like the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality (1Co 6:9 in particular) is suing Zondervan, a major Bible publisher:

Christian publisher Zondervan is facing a $60 million federal lawsuit filed by a man who claims he and other homosexuals have suffered based on what the suit claims is a misinterpretation of the Bible.

But a company spokeswoman says Zondervan doesn’t translate the Bible or own the copyright for any of the translations. Instead, she said in a statement, the company relies on the “scholarly judgment of credible translation committees.”

That is to say, setting aside whether the federal civil rights lawsuit is credible, the company says Bradley Fowler sued the wrong group.

His suit centers on one passage in scripture — 1 Corinthians 6:9 — and how it reads in Bibles published by Zondervan.

Fowler says Zondervan Bibles published in 1982 and 1987 use the word homosexuals among a list of those who are “wicked” or “unrighteous” and won’t inherit the kingdom of heaven.

Fowler says his family’s pastor used that Zondervan Bible, and because of it his family considered him a sinner and he suffered.

Now he is asking for an apology and $60 million.

Opponents of Christianity have been suing Christians in Canada for years (and winning), so it was only a matter of time until it was tried here. This suit is flawed in so many ways that it should quickly be thrown out, but that will only make them try harder.

(Via the Master’s Table.)

I don’t get it

July 9, 2008

The London Times has a strange article on a (disputed) archaeological discovery:

The death and resurrection of Christ has been called into question by a radical new interpretation of a tablet found on the eastern bank of the Dead Sea.

The three-foot stone tablet appears to refer to a Messiah who rises from the grave three days after his death – even though it was written decades before the birth of Jesus.

The ink is badly faded on much of the tablet, known as Gabriel’s Vision of Revelation, which was written rather than engraved in the 1st century BC. This has led some experts to claim that the inscription has been overinterpreted.

A previous paper published by the scholars Ada Yardeni and Binyamin Elitzur concluded that the most controversial lines were indecipherable.

Israel Knohl, a biblical studies professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, argued yesterday that line 80 of the text revealed Gabriel telling an historic Jewish rebel named Simon, who was killed by the Romans four years before the birth of Christ: “In three days you shall live, I, Gabriel, command you.”

Professor Knohl contends that the tablet proves that messianic followers possessed the paradigm of their leader rising from the grave before Jesus was born.

I just don’t get it. Let’s suppose than the inscription is correctly translated exactly as Knohl claims. (Apparently there is good reason to doubt this.) How exactly does this cast doubt on the resurrection? It has no bearing on whether or not it actually happened; all it does is suggest that the idea of resurrection was already out there. I think most people would agree that idea of resurrection is quite a bit easier than actually pulling it off.

Furthermore, there’s very little in the Gospels — the resurrection included — that isn’t already foreshadowed in the Old Testament. In fact, there is already a resurrection in the Old Testament. How would one more foreshadowing change anything? This result sounds greatly oversold.

UPDATE (7/17): One reader writes to tell me, none too kindly, that since Christianity is false anyway, all this discussion is vacuous. I disagree. There are at least two states of belief (Kripke worlds) we may consider here; in one Christianity is known to be false, and in the other it is seen as plausible. In either world, this discovery changes nothing. Clearly it is consistent with the atheist’s state, and, as I argue above, it is consistent with the believer/agnostic’s state as well. So, in what state of belief is this discovery germane? I still don’t get it.

Reuters misunderstands GAFCON

June 29, 2008

For the last week, orthodox Anglican leaders have been meeting at a conference in Jerusalem. Reuters reports on the results, managing to get nearly everything wrong:

Conservative Anglicans Reluctant to Break Away

Conservative Anglican leaders meeting at a rebel summit expressed frustration with the church’s leadership on Thursday but indicated that an outright schism might be avoided.

The Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON), a week-long convention of hundreds of conservative bishops and clergy, opened on Sunday amid talk that it was a first step towards a split between conservative and liberal wings in the 77-million-strong Anglican Communion.

The Communion is divided over issues such as homosexuality and biblical authority. [Scofflaw: The latter is the central issue, but the former is what interests the media.]

But mid-way through the conference, conservative leaders spoke only of making GAFCON a “movement,” without indicating how such a process would be handled and if there was enough support among the bishops to initiate a split.

As we’ll see, this is simply wrong.

When asked whether worshippers would be able to belong to both the new movement and the Anglican Communion, [Archbishop Nzimbi of Kenya] said: “This is something which should emerge clearly at the end of GAFCON.”

The very question indicates that they have no idea what is going on. The assumption seems to be that orthodox Christians (“conservatives,” the article calls them) would secede from the Anglican Communion. What Reuters does not understand is that the Anglican Communion is overwhelmingly orthodox. If anyone found themselves on the outside, it wouldn’t be the orthodox members.

What is happening is a small province of the Anglican Communion (the United States Episcopal Church) is aggressively challenging the core tenets of the Christian faith (such as the unique redemptive work of Jesus Christ), and is persecuting dissident congregations. Many of those dissident congregations are looking to leave the Episcopal Church and join another province within the Anglican Communion. That is the split being contemplated, one within the Episcopal Church, not the Anglican Communion as a whole.


The conservatives, who claim to represent 35 million Anglicans, mostly in developing countries, have been hinting at a split within the Communion since Anglicanism’s first openly gay bishop was consecrated in the United States.

However, it seems that they might now shy away from that step.

“They are trying to back down from the difficult position they put themselves in, as gracefully as possible,” said Jim Naughton, Canon for Communications with the diocese of Washington.

Notice that the only quote the article solicited was from an opponent of the conference, and it is presented uncritically (despite, we’ll see in a moment, being completely wrong). However, basic demographic facts are qualified by “claim”.

Anyway, the main thrust of the article is that participants are backing away from schism (and, according to Naughton, trying to back down gracefully). In fact, the official statement is out, and it doesn’t back away in the slightest:

We recognise the desirability of territorial jurisdiction for provinces and dioceses of the Anglican Communion, except in those areas where churches and leaders are denying the orthodox faith or are preventing its spread, and in a few areas for which overlapping jurisdictions are beneficial for historical or cultural reasons.

We thank God for the courageous actions of those Primates and provinces who have offered orthodox oversight to churches under false leadership, especially in North and South America. The actions of these Primates have been a positive response to pastoral necessities and mission opportunities. We believe that such actions will continue to be necessary and we support them in offering help around the world.

We believe this is a critical moment when the Primates’ Council will need to put in place structures to lead and support the church. In particular, we believe the time is now ripe for the formation of a province in North America for the federation currently known as Common Cause Partnership to be recognised by the Primates’ Council.

(Emphasis mine.) The statement explicitly endorses the formation of a new, orthodox province in North America. Far from backing off, this is actually a stronger position than what has recently been contemplated. (What is now being contemplated is to move orthodox parishes and dioceses to another existing province — probably the Southern Cone — rather than creation of a new province.)

This article completely misunderstands what happened in Jerusalem (or worse, deliberately misrepresents it). Truly a shabby piece of work.

Obama’s faith

June 3, 2008

Mark Hemingway points out a 2004 interview of Barack Obama by Cathleen Falsani, on the topic of his faith. Obama calls himself a Christian, and Falsani asks several questions to probe what that means to him. She leaves some important questions out, though.

Obama’s answers reveal him as a practitioner of the non-judgemental, “people are basically good” brand of pseudo-Christianity that is popular in America today. Certainly he is not an orthodox Christian.

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