Archive for August, 2009
XFiles Friday: Liar, Lunatic or Liberal

(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 13.)

Last time we looked at what Geisler and Turek called Jesus’ “indirect” claims to deity, a rather disappointing demonstration for the most part, with several of their key examples turning out muddled and self-contradictory, and even non-existent. This week, they try to offer some more practical examples of things Jesus allegedly did that only God could have done, followed by their ace in the hole: C. S. Lewis.

As with the “indirect” claims (and even with the “direct” claims), the evidence cited by Geisler and Turek seems calculated more to disappoint than to document. For example, they cite Mark 2:5-11, where Jesus heals the paralytic, and says “Your sins are forgiven.” According to G&T, “The scribes correctly responded, ‘Who can forgive sins but God alone?’” Jesus forgave sins; therefore Jesus is God, right?

Before we answer that question, let’s look at a Bible passage Geisler and Turek didn’t quote.

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

Who can forgive sins but God alone? Well, apparently Jesus thought his disciples could, or at least, the New Testament writers portray him as though that’s what he thought. The concept Geisler and Turek studiously avoid mentioning is the idea that a duly appointed agent might possibly exercise a delegated authority to forgive sins, even if he or she were not personally God.

Their next example is even weaker.

Jesus declared, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” and then immediately gave a new commandment, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…” (Matt. 28:18-19).

See, God is supposed to have originally given Moses Ten Commandments, so by referring to this passage as a “new commandment,” we’re supposed to jump to the conclusion that only God can give “commandments,” and therefore Jesus must be God, or something. We’re also apparently supposed to completely overlook the fact that Jesus says power and authority were given to him. Since when does God need to be given power and authority? And who is there who could give God any power and authority that He didn’t already have? This one seems to work against G&T.

I’ll skip the next couple examples, which are more or less as bad as the first two, and go straight to the last example. This one might actually sound plausible: Jesus, on numerous occasions, seems to have accepted, and possibly even commended people for offering, worship aimed at himself personally. Such tales might, of course, be embellishments added by the NT writers in recording their awe-struck recollections of how their “Savior” behaved, but taking the stories at face value, it seems fair to allow that Jesus did, in fact, promote the idea that he was to be worshiped as a divine person of some sort.

And that brings us to C. S. Lewis, and the famous “Liar, Lunatic or Lord” argument, sometimes called the “Trilemma.” It’s a topic we’ve discussed before, so I don’t want to rehash the obvious objections too much. Suffice it to say that, for the skeptic, the only problem posed by the “Liar, Lunatic or Lord” argument is why we can’t pick both of the first two options.

One aspect of this argument that we haven’t discussed before, though, and which I think Geisler and Turek do a rather better job of bringing out, is that this argument isn’t really even addressed at skeptics.

What would you think about your neighbor if he seriously said those things [which Jesus said]? You certainly wouldn’t say, “Gee, I think he’s a great moral teacher!” No, you’d say this guy is nuts, because he’s definitely claiming to be God.

They follow this up with another quote from C. S. Lewis:

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish things that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would rather be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice.

It’s not the skeptics and atheists who are most likely to “accept Jesus” as a great moral teacher (though some say they do anyway). No, the people who are the principle target of Lewis’ argument are the casual Christians, the cultural Christians, the liberal Christians, who try to embrace what they see as all the good things about Jesus without being sucked into the evils of fanaticism. People who like Jesus and want to be known as “Christians,” but who stop short of surrendering themselves body, mind and soul to Jesus as their personal God and Master.

What Lewis is trying to do here is to confront the casual/liberal Christian with a contradiction between the nice things they want to say about Jesus, and the ridiculousness of actually saying them in the context of Jesus claiming to be God. Let’s pause here and savor this moment, shall we? Christians trying to get other Christians to confront the inherent contradictions in their beliefs, in hopes of getting them to acknowledge how inconsistent and foolish those beliefs are…?

Ah, such a treat.

Geisler and Turek, as Christian apologists, ought to know how futile it is to take this approach. All a “warm and fuzzy” believer needs to do is adopt a “warm and fuzzy” approach to interpreting what Jesus means, just as G&T themselves do if confronted with their own contradictions and inconsistencies. The “Trilemma” is not so much a rational case for the deity of Jesus as it is a rationalization of the desire to believe.

There are certainly any number of parallel counter-instances in the real world. Take Rev. Moon, for instance. He teaches moral principles that are in many cases the same moral standards Jesus taught. And like Jesus, he claims to be something more than just a mere man. Does this mean we must choose whether Moon is a Liar, Lunatic or Lord? He’s too wealthy and adept at politics to be crazy, and if teaching good morals means he can’t be a Liar, then we’re left with only the same choice as Lewis wants to leave for Jesus.

But in the real world, it’s not only possible, it’s regrettably common for men to preach a high standard, not because of any personal virtue, but because it makes the crowds easier to manipulate. Is there a Christian virtue preached by Jesus, or a moral vice forbidden by him, that is not many times more rigorously enforced in Muslim cultures than among evangelical Christians today? Liar, Lunatic or Prophet, which was Mohammed?

The Liar, Lunatic or Lord argument pretends to be a Trilemma, but it’s really a simple case of binary thinking, as Geisler and Turek point out by quoting Peter Kreeft.

There are only two possible interpretations: Jesus is God, or Jesus is not God… Jesus was either (1) God, if his claim about himself was true, or (2) a bad man, if what he said was not true, for good men do not claim to be God.

This is the binary choice that Lewis wants to force casual Christians into. There’s no possibility Jesus might have been misunderstood, or mis-reported, or even honestly mistaken. There’s no option allowing for Jesus to have thought of himself as “being God” in some special, spiritual sense of communion and harmony, no analogue to the marital metaphor of two becoming one in some intimate and personal commitment. There is only the binary choice: either call Jesus God, or call him Satan.

In the world of Lewis, Geisler, and Turek, Jesus does not want friends, nor does he want admirers. He wants slaves. Or “servants,” if you prefer a softer synonym that ultimately means the same thing. He has no use for fans or imitators. He must be your God, or be nothing at all. And once you accept him as your God, of course, you’ll need to obey him, which will be difficult since he’s not actually here to tell you what he wants. But don’t worry, in his absence, there are plenty of people who know just exactly what his will is, and who will be only too happy to share it with you, on his behalf, so you can obey them, er, him, too.

Ultimately, that’s the goal: force weak-minded believers into a binary choice that will leave them enslaved to whatever the leaders of the Church say Jesus’ will is. Admiration is not enough. Learning good morals is not enough. It must be unconditional surrender or nothing. The only thing Jesus hates more than an atheist is an independent believer.

Literally Confused

According to the Reformers, literal interpretation is understanding scripture in its plain sense. Mr. Snapp seems to think that literal interpretation is taking words in their normative sense.

The people who come out of the Catholic, or what we call the Reformed, or Amillennial tradition they take these passages and they say, “you know what, as long as it was about Christ” in other words, here’s all these prophetic things about Christ and so forth – or even prophetic things about Israel, and they say, “ok, so yeah, we see that that’s been fulfilled” so they believe in the literal fulfillment of these passages. But if it comes to the passages that clearly have not been fulfilled yet, they go off in a totally different direction and they say, “but these things are not literal.” I am a literalist when it comes to interpretation of the Bible except obviously in cases of poetry and clear symbols and that sort of thing. Did we have the chapters where we see all these winged creatures and all these the bear and all this kind of stuff, yes we did. When Daniel interpreted that and told us what it meant, did he say these were all symbolic and had no literal meaning? No. He pointed them right straight into history, history we can look at and that the Jews would be able to look at and say, ‘look, there it is.’…Why in the world would he go from that to then later in the book now of course it doesn’t mean anything but something spiritual.”

To Mr. Snapp “literally” means “normative.” For example, consider the phrase “It is raining cats and dogs.” The term “cat” normally refers to felines, and the term “dog” normally refers to K-9s. Thus a literal (normative) interpretaion would be “Felines and K-9s are actually falling from the sky.” As he mentioned, however, he is a literalist except in cases of poetry or clear symbol. Thus Mr. Snapp would abandon the literal interpretation and adopt (what I presume he would call) a metaphorical interpretation (i.e. “It is raining really hard”).

To the Reformers, on the other hand, “literal” meant “the plain sense.” To interpret something literally is to interpret it according to the literary device employed. For example, the phrase, “It is raining cats and dogs” employs a literary device known as metaphor. Thus the literal meaning is “Its raining really hard.”

Both parties ended at the same meaning: Its raining really hard. So while this cannot account for differing interpretations, hopefully this example helps to clarify the methodology and terminology. Both parties hold to a grammatical-historical method of interpretation. They may use the term “literal” in a slightly different way, but ultimately they both try to account for the genre and literary devices.

If the Dispensationalists and Covenant theologians both hold to a literal hermeneutic, then how do they arrive at different interpretations? There are two answers I can give:  Consistency and difference of opinion. One group or the other is more consistent in the application of that hermeneutic. There are obviously underlying factors for why it is employed inconsistently, but I want to just focus upon the fact of it here. Below are some examples of inconsistencies in Mr. Snapp’s introduction:

  1. He chides Amillennialists for A) adopting a non-literal (read non-normative) interpretation and B) for treating one part of scripture different from another. Yet, he admits that he himself abandons a literal (normative) hermeneutic in certain cases. This leaves him open to both of his own charges. Moreover, it should be clear that the Reformed camp does employ a literal (plain sense) that can be consistently applied across all of scripture.
  2. Talking specifically about prophecy, he chides the Amillennialists for not treating it literally. Yet, by his own admission, A) he is a non-literalist in the case of clear symbols B) the beasts in Daniel are symbols. Ergo he fail to treat prophecy literally (normatively).
  3. Lets assume (despite the contradiction of 1 and 2) that he is interpreting the prophecies of Daniel literally. This new definition of literal means the ability to point to something in history and say, “Look, there it is.” But why this arbitrary limitation? A literal interpretation does not need to be historical. “God is all-powerful” is a statement that is literally true and completely independent of history. Even so, what he objects most strongly to is the notion that these prophecies would find fulfillment in the church. Granting his arbitrary limitation of “literal” to “historical” why can I not point to the church in history and say, “Look, there it is”?
  4. The goal posts shift one more time when he mentions that a literal interpretation cannot be something spiritual. But the opposite of spiritual is physical, not literal. There can be a literal interpretation that is spiritual. “Your love is sweeter than honey.” What is the literal interpretation of that? Or, “Your love is precious to me,” what is the literal interpretation? How can love be physical? It is completely arbitrary to say that in order for an interpretation to be literal it has to be physical.
  5. Exploring this further, how does he see the reign of Christ coming into fruition? If he is a good Dispensationalist, he sees Christ, in body, ruling his people from Jerusalem for 1000 yrs. But ruling is an abstract concept. Decrees and authority are not physical things. How can it be physical? Perhaps he will answer that Jesus is physically in a certain geography while he reigns. But we affirm that Christ has ascended into heaven with a body. Therefore he is bodily reigning from a certain geography now. Why does this not count? Moreover, Amillennialists affirm that at his second coming he will create a new heaven and new earth on which he will reign for eternity. Why does this eternal earthly rule not count but a 1000 yr earthly rule does?

It is hard to track with exactly what Mr. Snapp believes literal interpretation is. Can a literal interpretation be given for symbolic writing? He seems to affirm both “Yes” and “No.” Is it bad to change ones hermeneutic or not? Again we get conflicting answers. Why the arbitrary restrictions of “literal interpretation” to only that which is historical and physical? Even so, why does the historical, physical church not count?

J.I. Packer states:

But to read all Scripture narratives as if they were eye-witness reports in a modern newspaper, and to ignore the poetic and imaginative form in which they are sometimes couched, would be no less a violation of the canons of evangelical ‘literalism’ than the allegorizing of the Scholastics was; and this sort of ‘literalism’ Evangelicals repudiate. It would be better to call such exegesis ‘literalistic’ rather than ‘literal’, so as to avoid confusing two very different things.

Packer recognizes that many (in this case the Dispensatioal types like Hal Lindsey) are less consistent in their application. When Lindsey reads Revelation, he insists on reading it in a literalistic manner, and not according to its genres. Thus the locusts of Revelation are actually attack helicopters that John saw but didn’t know how to describe. Revelation, however, is arguably the most symbolic book in the Bible. Why would he read that as if it were a 1st century newspaper report of a 21st century war? He has left his genre-specific hermeneutic at the door and embarked on one fanciful, non-literal, reading.

This brings me to the second reason for interpretive differences: Difference of opinion. Even if we utilize the same grammatical-historical method of interpretation, there can be difference of opinion as to whether or not something is metaphorical or normative. For example, when Jesus says of the bread, “Take; this is my body” the Catholics think he is speaking normatively, but Protestants believe he is speaking metaphorically. This post is long already, so I will continue my review of some specific examples of disagreements in the next few posts.

Obama and Jesus

Forgive me, but I can’t help commenting on current events. For example, let’s look at an editorial written by Dr. William P. Dukes, a professor of finance in the Rawls College of Business at Texas Tech University. Dr. Dukes writes:

Obama wants us to believe that his motivation is to help the small number of Americans who do not have health insurance. Those who have no health insurance will receive better health care from almost any hospital than from having Obama Health Insurance. Our health care system is not perfect, but is still the best in the world. Obama wants to waste something like a trillion dollars to have a single provider. Very briefly, he wants to socialize medicine, to have total control over all health care and the lives of the elderly.

It starts off fairly well. Obama does want us to believe that the goal is to extend health care to those who are falling through the cracks under the current system. But it kind of goes downhill from there. To be fair, it’s not all that dissimilar to what you would hear coming from Limbaugh or Hannity on any given day of the week. It’s distorted, biased, provocative and misleading, but honestly, that’s pretty much par for the course with political rhetoric, right? Let’s keep reading.

A recent statement by Thomas Sowell (Reporter-News, July 29), fits Obama’s actions. “With race — as with campaign finance, transparency and the rest — Barack Obama knows what the public wants to hear and that is what he has said. But his policies as president have been the opposite of his rhetoric, with race as with other issues.”

Therefore, the public believes that Obama wants to destroy anything good our great country has to offer, such as the best health care system, the Constitution and the Supreme Court.

In addition, it has been reported that in the proposed health care plan, illegal aliens will get benefits.

Ok, now we’re starting to fragment a little. One guy claims that Obama is a hypocrite, and therefore Dr. Dukes concludes that “the public believes” that Obama is deliberately seeking to destroy health care, the Constitution and the Supreme Court. Maybe just a leeeeeeetle bit of an overdrawn conclusion, don’t you think? And the offhand cheap shot at illegal aliens? What’s that there for?

But Dr. Dukes isn’t just any wingnut blatherer: he’s a full PhD and a professor at Texas Tech. He’s got an intellect, and has demonstrated his ability to put his mind to good use when he chooses to do so. And yet, certain conditions seem to make him lose it, intellectually. Just a bit, anyway. But nevertheless, he at least tries to build a solid, reasonable case for his views, as when he cites statistics to back up his claims.

The National Center For Public Policy Research offers:

1. Fifty percent (50 percent) of women in Britain and New Zealand diagnosed with breast cancer die from it. By contrast, about one-fifth of American women diagnosed with breast cancer die from it.

2. In England the system decided to halt knee and hip replacements for overweight people.

3. In Australia a man has been on a 90-day waiting period for two years to get surgery to fix his hands, shoulder and ankle crippled by rheumatoid arthritis.

4. In Canada patients have been denied life-saving medicines that are standard treatment in the United States.

The National Center for Public Policy Research, in case you’re not familiar with it, is an organization that proudly declares itself a “conservative think tank.” In other words, these statistics are not being reported by an unbiased source, they’re being published specifically because the Center believes these claims will further a conservative agenda. Let’s take just the first claim as a representative sample.

The Center would like us to believe that in Britain and New Zealand (why those two countries, specifically?) the mortality rate from certain types of cancer is as high as 50,000 per 100,000 people. According to recent data from the Office of Economic Cooperation and Development, the mortality rate isn’t nearly that high. In New Zealand, the mortality rate from cancer in general stands at about 327 per 100,000, or slightly above the United States’ mortality rate of 321 per 100,000. Britain, meanwhile, has a significantly lower mortality rate, at only 253.5 deaths per 100,000. Even if we assume that the statistics for breast cancer are anomalous, and are strikingly worse than the statistics for cancer in general, it is clear that Britain’s health care system is not resulting in needless and preventable deaths from cancer. At best, the Center has cherry-picked its data, and at worst it may have fabricated it entirely.

Is Dr. Dukes deliberately spreading false and misleading information in order to deceive his readers into drawing false conclusions about health care in countries with more modern and civilized health care programs? We can’t say for sure, but it does seem that his biases are making him more prone to accept bad data uncritically and to promote it with an unwise degree of enthusiasm. But wait, we haven’t seen anything yet! Join me as we turn into the spin and begin our spiral downwards.

Obama does not like our Constitution and wants to destroy the Supreme Court. Obama is trying to destroy the effectiveness of the court with Sotomayor, who wants to break up the United States. Gary Kreep, director of the United States Justice Foundation, reports that “Sotomayor is part of the movement seeking to take over the entire southwestern United States, and make it part of Mexico. She was a member of La Raza, which is called a Latino KKK. Sotomayor was selected to destroy the Supreme Court.”

Yes, that’s right. Obama picked a Latina judge to be a Supreme Court Justice because it was all part of a plot to cede the entire southwest of the United States to Mexico! Isn’t that just like a megalomaniacal despot with ambitions of world domination? No sooner do they get elected to the supreme office in the land, but they immediately seek to shrink their area of control, hand over valuable natural and industrial resources, and weaken their base of power. So like Hitler! But we’re in the final, irretrievable death spiral now:

After the election, Obama said our country is no longer a Christian nation and is now a Muslim nation. Obama visits foreign countries and tells them how bad America is.

Please call your representatives and tell them how much you disagree with Obama’s attempt to destroy the best health care system and waste another trillion dollars.

Certification of Obama’s Kenya birth certificate could save our country, health care and avoid “Cap & Tax.”

Our country depends on you.

Yes, by his magical, demonic powers, Obama took an entire Christian nation and *poof* transformed it magically into a Muslim nation! He goes around to other countries and tries to convince them that America is terrible, which is pretty strange, since he is also secretly a Muslim himself and ought to be proud of what he has done with America. Um, yeah, so anyway, he’s trying to destroy health care, and waste a trillion dollars (which we could have spent paying for part of the war on Iraq). And he was born in Kenya (even though his mom was in Hawaii at the time)! Wake up America! Our country depends on you! Write to your congress critters and tell them tooooo… do…. something. Pass a law making President Obama an official Kenyan, or maybe revoke Hawaii’s statehood retroactively, or something. Anything! Halp!!!1!

Doctor Dukes starts off sounding like a reasonable, sane (if conservative) professor, and in the space of a few short paragraphs, launches himself deep into the loonisphere. The man has a mind, yet when confronted with one unpleasant fact—a liberal black man in the White House—he disconnects that mind from the real world, and plugs it into some hysterical and paranoid fantasy world dreamt up by the Limbaughs and Hannities and maybe even the profit-protecting insurance industry executives. And that becomes his new truth. Nothing can change his mind. Obamo delenda est!

A related news story makes it clear that Dr. Dukes is not an isolated case. People from all across the country, but especially from the conservative South, are firmly and unshakably convinced that they know that they know that they know, that Barack Obama was not born a U.S. citizen. As few as 24% of Republicans in North Carolina, for instance, believe that Obama is a legitimate U.S. citizen. The rest either claim to be unsure, or else they are sure (47%!) that he was not born in the US.  They weren’t there at the time. They haven’t a shred of evidence on which to base their conclusions. But they know it beyond all hope of persuading them otherwise, despite the fact that Obama’s Hawaiian birth certificate has been published and documented and verified beyond a reasonable doubt (notice I said reasonable doubt). Some 8% of them don’t even believe that Hawaii is a US state.

So here’s the kicker. Let’s suppose we take one of these “birthers,” and arrest them. Let’s tell them that unless they stop telling people that Obama is not a U.S. citizen, they will be convicted of treason and executed. Is there anyone here who has the slightest doubt that, among all the birthers, at least twelve people would take this as absolute proof that the birther accusations were true, and would willingly die rather than sell out their immortal souls to Satan Incarnate? That they would martyr themselves over a baseless slander about a duly elected President?

One of the most popular apologetics is to point to the testimony of the early Christians, and especially of the Christian martyrs, and to say that we cannot possibly impeach their testimony, because they believed it strongly enough to die for it. Yet when we look at the real world, we find that, in fact, it’s not all that hard to find people—even intelligent and educated individuals like Dr. Dukes—who simply plug their brains into an alternate “reality” whenever the real facts violate their cherished beliefs and ideals. The birthers have suffered nothing worse than a lost election, certainly not anything remotely like the public execution of their God, but they’re repeatedly (and vocally) going fricking nuts anyway!

When we read the stories in the New Testament, and we hear about how strong the “faith” of the early apostles and martyrs was, does that really mean they must have had something genuine? Not at all. Just look at the birthers. They have nothing, yet their faith in their dogmas is strong enough, and irrational enough, that death threats would only reinforce their convictions. Evidence doesn’t faze them, reason doesn’t faze them, experience does not change their minds. They know that they know that they know, and nothing outside their own head is important (except to the extent that it can be used to promote their delusional beliefs).

What does it take to explain the New Testament accounts, and the OT stories as well? All we need to suppose is that some people, back in Bible times, were like the people we see in the headlines today. They have faith. They have zeal. And nothing can drown out their witness—not even the truth.

Yet all they have to offer the rest of us is a chance to share in their delusion. Despite the strength of their convictions, the things they say don’t correspond to the things we actually find in the real world. So whether you’re reading the news or reading the Bible, beware. There’s more to the truth than being fanatical enough to die for something.

Wha’ Happened?

It seems I had a wreck on the information superhighway. In an effort to upgrade my Wordpress it seems that my database was lost! Alas, the last three years of work are gone! I will begin posting new posts here shortly.

XFiles Friday: The Indirect Deity

(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 13.)

Last time we looked at what Geisler and Turek claimed were Jesus’ direct claims to be God. Considering that one of these “direct claims” consisted of Geisler and Turek asking themselves why Jesus was crucified if he didn’t claim to be God, I think it’s fair to say that they didn’t argue their case as well as they might have. But in any event, they (and we) are moving on to what they call Jesus’ “indirect” claims to deity.

By “indirect,” they mean that they, as apologists, have to work a bit harder to make Jesus’ words sound like claims to personal divinity. Jesus didn’t come right out and say, “Yes, I am God the Father, and you need to worship Me and no other person” (and if he had, that would be quite a problem for Trinitarians!), but according to Geisler and Turek, he left specially coded clues for Trinitarian Christians to ferret out and interpret. Let’s pick a representative sample, and have a look.

First of all, let’s remember that in Trinitarian theology, God the Father and God the Son are not supposed to be the same person. God, in other words, is not a person, God is three persons, and thus ought to be called a Them (third person plural) rather than a Him (third person singular). This fact will make the following discussion, if not clearer, then perhaps at least a bit more enjoyable.

  • Jesus prayed, “And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was” (John 17:5, KJV). But the Old Testament says there is only one God (Deut. 6:4, Isa. 45:5ff.) and God says, “my glory will I not give to another” (Isa. 42:8).

This is a fairly typical example of Geisler and Turek’s apologetic approach. Pick a verse here, then pick another verse there, draw a conclusion, then pick yet another verse from someplace else entirely, and put them all together to get the result you want.

This is short paragraph also gives us a good example of some of the problems involved in Trinitarianism. When “God” says “my [first person singular] glory I will not give to another,” which singular person is speaking? Is that the Father saying He will not share His glory with the Son and the Spirit? But Jesus calls upon God the Father to share His glory, and claims to have shared it already. Does that mean that the Father is not really “another” person relative to the Son, that Jesus is the Father?

But then, if the Father is not another person, it makes no sense for Jesus to speak about one Person sharing His glory with a second person (or Person). If the Father is not another Person, then what Jesus is really saying in John 17 is “And now, O Me, glorify me with mine own self with the glory which I had with myself before the world was.” (Perhaps now would be a good time to ask about liars, lords, and lunatics, if Jesus is going to go around talking to himself like that! But no, that’s coming up later.)

A key element of Trinitarian doctrine is that the Son is “another” relative to the father, so that distinctions like “me and thee” make sense. Comparing Jesus’ words with the relevant passages does not so much establish Jesus’ deity as it contradicts the direct statements of the OT prophets. Rather than prove that Jesus is God Incarnate, such studies only show that Christianity contradicts the Hebrew Scriptures on which it is ostensibly based.

Let’s try another example and see if that makes any more sense.

  • He said, “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11); but the Old Testament says, “The LORD is my shepherd” (Ps. 23:1). Moreover, God says, “As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep” (Ezek. 34:12).

There’s another “shepherd” verse Geisler and Turek could have quoted, but for some reason they chose not to include it here.

To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. (I Pet. 5:1-3)

Notice, Geisler and Turek see a claim to divinity in the fact that Jesus compared himself to a shepherd, and there are OT passages that associate shepherds with God. If that’s all it takes, though, then apparently the church elders are all gods as well. Trinitarian isn’t going to be adequate, we need a doctrine of “One-to-n-itarianism” to cover all the gods!

  • Jesus declared, “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it” (John 5:21). But the Old Testament clearly taught that only God was the giver of life (Deut. 32:39; 1 Sam. 2:6) and the one to raise the dead (Isa. 16:19; Dan. 12:2; Job 19:25), and the only judge (Deut 32:35; Joel 3:12).

This one might actually be one of the better verses to cite as support for the claim that Jesus considered himself to be God Incarnate. The powers he is asserting as being possessed by the Son are certainly divine-caliber powers. Unfortunately, virtually every verse G & T cite falls rather short of saying what they want it to say. 1 Sam. 2:6, for example, says “The LORD brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up”—a clear reference to the idea that God does kill and/or bring to life, but hardly a declaration that only God can kill and/or give life. And Isaiah 16:19 doesn’t exist at all!

The major lesson we can learn from this section of Geisler and Turek’s book is that they’re bound and determined to reach the conclusion that Jesus claimed deity, and are none too picky about how they get there. They’re no longer even attempting to make a pretense of objectivity, they’re simply flinging up one excuse after another for believing the conclusions they want to believe. It makes for poor theology and even worse apologetics (except among the true believers, of course). But there’s still more to come. Stay tuned.

I have opened a CafePress online shop.

It features atheism and Christian related products such as t-shirts, postcards, and apparel of all sorts.

The shop is called INTELLIGENT DESIGNS
I have opened a CafePress online shop.

It features atheism and Christian related products such as t-shirts, postcards, and apparel of all sorts.

The shop is called INTELLIGENT DESIGNS
I have opened a CafePress online shop.

It features atheism and Christian related products such as t-shirts, postcards, and apparel of all sorts.

The shop is called INTELLIGENT DESIGNS
The magic of ritual

I’d like to follow up on last week’s post about the Trinity, because I think we just started to get into a discussion that’s actually pretty interesting on its own. As mentioned last time, the doctrine of the Trinity is a doctrine made up of two mutually-contradictory ideas: the idea that there is one God (monotheism) and the idea that multiple, distinct, individual Persons are each fully God (polytheism). What’s more, the Church has known since the origin of Trinitarianism that these two aspects of the doctrine contradict each other, hence the need to officially declare it a “mystery” beyond the grasp of mortal reason or study.

So how, then, has the Church been successful in persuading people that the Trinity is the Truth? It seems fairly obvious: truth is consistent with itself, and the only way we have to distinguish between truth and untruth is to look for the telltale inconsistencies and contradictions that betray untruth. Yet here we have a doctrine that is not written in the Bible, was not revealed through allegedly inspired prophets, and that was adopted, after much conflict and even violence, through a political process that boiled down to deciding which side was most convincing to the greatest number of (fallible, uninspired) men. It should be easy, given a self-contradicting teaching with such a checkered past, to convince Christians that this is a false and man-made doctrine. And yet, it is not.

So how do you pull off a maneuver like that? The answer is complex in some ways, and yet simple in others. Before the council of Nicaea, there were two powerful factions within the Church: the strict monotheists, who held that there was One and only One God, and their opponents, who believed in the deity of Jesus. It was a particularly vexing problem because, while neither side was strong enough to win, the Church as a whole could not afford to let either side lose.

The monotheists could not lose because Jesus was a monotheist, and the Christians, like Jesus himself, were firmly rooted in the Pharisaic traditions regarding how many gods were really God. To reject monotheism was to undermine the whole theological foundation of Christianity, and to cast doubts on whether Jesus really knew and taught the truth about God. So the monotheists had to be victorious.

On the other hand, to interpret Jesus’ death as a sacrificial atonement for all mankind, the Christians had to see Jesus as more than just a man, otherwise the sacrifice of one (merely) human life would suffice to pay for the sins of (merely) one other human follower. To be an infinite payment for sins, the Cross would need to involve the death of an infinite Being, so that the value of His life would be sufficient to pay for an unlimited number of sins.

So monotheistically, Jesus could not be God, and yet, paradoxically, neither could he fail to be God. Somehow, both sides needed to win even though each contradicted the other.

The Church councils tried to resolve this dilemma, and failed, ultimately sweeping it all under the “unfathomable” rug of “holy mystery.” But though they failed in the rational realm, they managed to achieve a brilliant and enduring success in a different realm: the psychosocial.

What the Church councils did was to create an official doctrine, which they named “The Trinity,” and which they defined as incorporating both of the conflicting views of deity, without any attempt to explain or reconcile the conflict between them. But the stroke of genius, the factor that turned the Trinity from an obvious false doctrine into a cornerstone of Christian dogma, was to institutionalize and promote this contradiction by teaching church members to regularly recite an official, ritual, Trinitarian formula. And even to this day, it is not uncommon for some branches of Christianity to recite the Nicene Creed as part of their weekly worship.

The reason this is so ingenious and effective is that it puts the believer in the position of having to learn a very specific dogma, expressed using a very specific and ritualized formula. The creed is long enough to require some small mental effort to learn, yet not so long as to be out of reach for anybody who really tries. By teaching that the Trinity is a “mystery,” by teaching believers that there’s a “right” way and a “wrong” way to express the doctrinal formula, and by having them recite the “correct” formula every week, the Church bypassed the believer’s normal critical thinking, and taught them to judge the rightness or wrongness of the idea strictly in terms of how accurately it reproduces the official formula.

You can see this whenever there’s a debate over whether or not the doctrine of the Trinity is true. The skeptic can point out the inescapable contradictions in the doctrine, but the believer is unfazed, and replies that the skeptic “doesn’t understand” the doctrine he’s trying to refute. The believer will then typically “explain” the doctrine by reciting the ritual formula, believing that because this is the recitation he’s most familiar with, it is therefore the “correct” expression of the doctrine. And because he feels like this particular formula is the “correct” one, he thinks he has demonstrated that the content of the formula is also correct.

In fact, the skeptic did not fail to understand the doctrine of the Trinity—far from it, because his whole argument is based on showing the contradictions between the twin aspects of the doctrine. Yes, he knows that the Trinity teaches “one God in three Persons,” that’s why he’s pointing out the logical problems in saying that three distinct persons, each of whom is God, are at the same time one God in any meaningful sense. But to the believer, this contradiction merely confirms the Trinitarian declaration that human intellect cannot understand the Trinity. The territory is familiar, and therefore the doctrine has nothing wrong with it.

Thus the Trinity becomes a doctrine that is immune to critical thinking. Because the official, ritual formula for the Trinity incorporates the inherent conflict between monotheism and polytheism (without directly addressing or resolving it), the believer will react to this contradiction by feeling a warm sense of familiarity and tradition rather than by perceiving the self-contradiction as a red flag. Rote repetition replaces rational relevance—it doesn’t matter that the Trinity is a self-contradiction, because it’s a traditional self-contradiction. The familiarity of the ritual works its magic on the believer, and deprives him of the insight he needs in order to distinguish truth from untruth.

And so the doctrine endures. We can try in vain to point out that it’s not a question of the Trinity being a hard doctrine to understand, it’s a question of getting people to realize that a self-contradictory man-made doctrine is a flawed and false doctrine. If someone adds one plus one plus one and comes up with an answer that is not the sum of three ones, it’s not because you, the listener, need to study some advanced calculus that contradicts basic mathematical principles, it’s because the flaws in wrong answers prevent them from adding up consistently.

Truth is consistent with itself. The Trinity is not. If we cannot tell that the Trinity is untrue, then we’ve lost the ability to genuinely know the difference between what’s true and what isn’t. And if that’s the case, why should anyone come to us for spiritual or moral guidance?

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