Thursday, August 26, 2010
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Yes, I'm being very blunt here: If you do not go to church; if you do not pray regularly; if you do not read the Scriptures regularly; you are simply not a Christian and have no right to call yourself such. You are, in fact, a functional atheist. You are practicing atheism while claiming to be a Christian. And there are far too many people who do this; I myself was raised this way.
Practicing atheism while calling yourself a Christian is a slander on the name of the faith. It is a slander against the millions (more than 50 million in the 20th century alone!) who have given their lives for being Christians. The Christians of the ancient pagan Roman Empire, of the Islamic empires of the Middle Ages, and of the Soviet Union in the 20th century risked arrest, torture, and death to be able to attend church services, pray in their homes, teach their children about the Faith, and read the Holy Scriptures. These are Christians; those who have full and unimpeded access to the services, to prayer in their homes, to tools for teaching their children about Christ, and to the Scriptures, but choose not to utilize these things, are not Christians.
I've heard many reasons (excuses, really) for why people choose not to go to church. Some people think that the church just wants their money. Others view church-going Christians as self-righteous and judgmental. Many will point to the sins of the clergy, such as sexual abuse by priests. But there are two obvious questions that need to be asked of those who present such excuses:
- The Church is a hospital for the healing (salvation) of those (sinners) who are sick with the disease of sin. Do you go to a hospital and expect to find healthy people or sick people? ("I have come not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance." - Luke 5:32)
- Why are you letting the sins and shortcomings of others (whether real or perceived) be an obstacle between yourself and Christ? The Lord has told us what we must do to serve him and each of us individually are accountable to him for what we do. ("But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ." - Romans 10:14)
If you don't want to pray; if you don't want to read the Scriptures; if you don't want to go to church -- fine; but stop claiming to be a Christian and just embrace the title you've already put into practice: atheist.
Now I want to offer some final thoughts on my series on why I'm not an atheist before I end this final post in that series.
There are many today who would like to see Jesus Christ as something other than the Son of God sent into the world to save mankind from eternal death. Each new book that makes its way to the "Christianity" section of the bookstore proposes some new and innovative theory about "who Jesus really was." He was a feminist, some exclaim. No, he was a social revolutionary, others yell. On the contrary, others say, he was a simple Jewish rabbi. Harrumph!, others spit, clearly he was a great mystic and moral teacher.
Each new author in each new book attempts to come up with a "new and amazing" theory about Christ, remaking and reshaping him into their own image -- into what they would like him to be. Even atheists attempt to claim him, many accepting him as a great moral teacher and social revolutionary, ahead of his time on feminist issues and economics. But the truth is that the Gospels and the clear tradition held to by the earliest Christians all the way to today do not allow for such interpretations to be made in any honesty.
C.S. Lewis, the famous 20th century Christian author, famously wrote that the Lord offered us only three options for the way in which we are to view him. Either he was a liar or a lunatic or the Lord. Jesus Christ spent several years traveling around ancient Palestine claiming to be God come in the flesh. Imagine someone came to you and told you they were God. You've got three options:
- He's lying.
- He's a lunatic.
- He really is the Lord.
So now the choice is yours to make. I've demonstrated, in this series of posts,
- that Christianity is the root cause of modern morality,
- that without Christianity the natural (and logical) tendency is toward utilitarianism and nihilism,
- that atheists, in order to be consistent, must view human beings as no more than animals,
- that atheism is incapable of producing great individuals like Mother Teresa, while Christianity regularly does so,
- that atheism is a religious choice, not a choice against religion,
- that the Resurrection of Christ is a historically verifiable fact,
- that the common stereotype of Christianity found in the minds of evangelical fundamentalists and atheists alike is not real Christianity, but a later invention under pagan influence,
- that the Orthodox Church is the Church founded by the Apostles and, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, continues to hold to the ancient Apostolic Faith,
- and that Christianity does not give the option of nominal adherence, but only active faith.
Monday, August 23, 2010
Most of you are probably wondering why I'm doing a post like this in a series that is supposed to be arguments against atheism. Well, as I've made clear already in this series, I am not defending some general category called "religion" or even "Christianity" as one mass -- I am specifically defending the Holy Orthodox Faith and speaking as a member of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church (i.e. the Orthodox Church). I've also already mentioned that, as an Orthodox Christian, I believe all others who call themselves Christians to be in schism and/or heresy.
I found this post necessary because so much of what passes for Christianity in America today is anything but. Evangelical fundamentalism -- one of the loudest "Christian" voices in America and the standard stereotype of Christianity found amongst atheists -- is a small minority of world Christianity (~5%) and a radical departure from the Faith originally proclaimed by the Apostles. I've met a great many atheists (in fact, most of the atheists I've met) who have turned to atheism because of their rejection of the false gospel of this pseudo-Christianity, which portrays God as angry, wrathful, arbitrary, and maleficent. I say kudos to you for rejecting such an evil conception of God! I'm doing this post to give those atheists who read it a chance to know what the real Gospel really looks like and so to have adequate information with which to make a choice of accepting or rejecting Jesus Christ.
So, how can I prove that the Orthodox Church is the original Church founded by the Apostles and that it continues to hold to the teachings of the Apostles to this day? That, obviously, would take going over 2000 years of history, theology, doctrine, ritual, and liturgy, something that is possible (I've done it), but not in a single blog post. Instead, I will tell you how I did it and so give you some direction for your own search:
I'm naturally a very skeptical person; I question everything -- there's hardly a thing I read or hear that I don't source-check -- and then source-check the sources. My incredulous nature has always been both a blessing and a curse for me. It's always made it hard for me to trust people and it certainly made my journey to Christianity -- and then Orthodoxy -- a much longer one than it might have otherwise been. But, once I reach a conclusion, I tend to have a firm conviction that I've arrived at the truth, if for no other reason than that I've exhausted every possible objection I could raise to it.
So... Of course, I applied my principles as I learned about the Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church said it was the ancient Church, so I learned about the ancient Church, reading every bit of the source texts of the first 300 years -- even the Gnostics' gibberish; the Orthodox Church said it had never changed the Faith in the last 2000 years, and everybody else has, so I read everything I could get my hands on about Church history -- from every perspective possible; the Orthodox Church said it was the True Church -- so, in short, I source-checked it. And, of course, you all know the conclusion I reached.
I want to share with everyone the three "methods" I used when I was "source-checking" the Church's claims, and I hope they'll help someone who reads this to make an informed decision:
- First, I started in AD 33 with Pentecost and followed the Church to today. This involved reading lots of histories and all of the early Fathers and quite a bit of the later Fathers (and even the various heretics). The question that I kept asking myself the whole way through is "who is changing? who is innovating?" The reason this is important is because any departure, however slight, from the Faith of the Apostles is a betrayal of that Faith; it's basically saying that the Apostles had things wrong or didn't have everything, that Christ left them incomplete. And this is obviously wrong. Scripture tells us to "cling to the Faith which was once for all handed down to the saints" (Jude 1:3) and so I knew that's what I had to look for along the way: who is clinging, as Scripture commands us to do, and who is changing? And I followed that through to today. And I ended up in Moscow, Damascus, Alexandria, Bucharest, Sofia, Athos -- in short, I ended up in the Orthodox Church.
- I then did the reverse; I started with today and worked my way back. I knew it was impossible to look at each and every individual Christian group and trace each individually back, as there are several thousand. So, what I decided to do was divide them into five umbrella groups:
Starting with these five basic "movements" in Christianity, I traced each back to their roots from today. I found the roots of the Restorationists in the 1700's and 1800's, mostly in America. I found the roots of the "Low-church" Protestants in the 1600's and 1700's in the Anabaptist movement and, in the case of the Pentecostals, in the early 1900's in America. I found the roots of the "Traditional" Protestants in Germany with Martin Luther, England with King Henry VIII, and Switzerland with John Calvin. The Roman Catholic Church was a little harder, as I certainly found its roots in the ancient Church, but I also saw a single Patriarch, the Pope of Rome, split from the four other Patriarchs (Constantinople, Alexandria, Jerusalem, and Antioch) in 1054 to go and form his own Church, the Roman Catholic Church of today. And so it was only the Orthodox I was able to trace all the way back, through time, to the first century in Judea with the 12 holy men called Apostles.
- Orthodox Church
- Roman Catholic Church
- "Traditional" Protestantism (Lutherans, Anglicans, Presbyterians, etc.)
- "Low-church" Protestantism (Baptists, Pentecostals, "Evangelicals," etc.)
- Restorationists (Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh-Day Adventists, etc.)
- Orthodox Church
- And the third way I took was to take everything I had learned about what the ancient Christians believed and practiced, especially those of the first and second centuries, as they are the closest to the Apostles, and compare it with those five groups of Christians I gave above. I compared even the minutest details. I made columns in a notebook for each group and marked wherein they agreed or disagreed with the Christianity of the year 100 or so; early Christians fasted on Wednesdays and Fridays - check; early Christians believed in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist - check; early Christians Baptized via triple immersion - check; early Christians used incense in worship - check; early Christians venerated martyrs - check. And, when I had finished, I found only one "group" whose column was filled top to bottom with my little checks -- the Orthodox Church.
So, what are the central beliefs of the Orthodox Christian Faith? What is the true Gospel of Jesus Christ?
God has eternally existed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and they have eternally existed perfectly loving each other. God is love. But God's love overflows, and therefore He created mankind, which He intended to come into full communion with Himself. However, man sinned, and turned away from the right path towards communion with God. God was grieved because man had turned away from Him, and because of the fallen world they now lived in, men could not turn back on their own power. Therefore, God the Father sent God the Son into the world. God the Son took on a human nature in addition to His divine nature. He united the divine and human natures in one person, enabling humans to partake of the divine nature once more, and return to communion with Him. Jesus Christ died on the Cross, and because He is God, death could not hold the author of life, and the bonds of death were broken.
Because of death's destruction, Christ rose up from the grave. Christ appointed certain sacraments, or mysteries, which enable union with God through Jesus Christ. He gave us Baptism, so that we may be united with Him in His death and resurrection. He gave us Chrismation, so that men may truly be sealed and indwelled with God the Spirit. He gave us the Eucharist, so that we may truly partake of the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ so that we are united to God incarnate and commune with Him. He gave us repentance, so that we may come forth and plead before God for forgiveness, which He has promised to grant us. God wishes all men to be saved, for He loves all. However, God cannot force anyone to come to Him, because true love only exists in free choice.
God therefore enabled free choice by sending everyone a certain amount of grace which enables them to come to God. In the end of time, Jesus Christ will return and consummate history. Since the bonds of death are broken, all men will rise up from the grave. Those who are in close communion with God will now feel the presence of God - they will feel it as joy and bliss. Those who are apart from God will feel the presence of God as well - but because of their lack of union with God, they will naturally feel it as shame and regret.
As you can see, unlike the pseudo-Christianity so common in America (and in Europe as well), the ancient Apostolic Faith has no pagan conceptions of a wrathful God demanding the blood of a righteous man (his Son), nor of a hell of fire and brimstone and sadistic devils with pitchforks, nor any other such nonsense.
The original Greek word which is translated as "gospel" is euaggelion. The literal meaning of the word is "glad tidings" or "good news." And the Gospel -- the real Gospel -- really is good news. The all-loving and all-forgiving God has become one of us and united us to himself; he's waiting on us to accept his offer. If you choose to reject it, at least know what beauty and what goodness and what immeasurable charity you have chosen to reject. God is always waiting; as the Apostle Peter wrote about 1950 years ago, the Lord is "longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9).
Clearly I haven't been able to cover the history, theology, and practice of the Orthodox Church in depth in this post, so I will now give a few resources for those who would like to learn more.
Some good websites:
- About Orthodox Christianity (on the website of the Orthodox Church in America)
- Introduction to Orthodox Christianity (on OrthodoxWiki)
- Get to Know the Original
- The Orthodox Church: New Edition - Bishop Kallistos Ware
- The Mountain of Silence: A Search for Orthodox Spirituality - Kyriacos C. Markides
- The Story of Christianity: An Illustrated History of 2000 Years of the Christian Faith - David B. Hart
(some of this post was originally featured in my post "Why I'm an Orthodox Christian, Or: How I can prove the Orthodox Church is the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church" on 10 December 2009)
(thanks to my friend and brother in Christ Thomas Seraphim [aka Kabane the Christian] for letting me use [in a slightly edited form] his description of the Orthodox Gospel from his post "Orthodoxy and Calvinism: Can Both Be the Gospel" at the Orthodox Apologetics blog on 16 July 2010)
Sunday, August 22, 2010
"If Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up—if in fact the dead do not rise. For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable." (1 Corinthians 15:14-19, NKJV)It is the Resurrection that either makes or breaks Christianity.
In this post, we will examine the historical evidence regarding the Resurrection of Christ. We will then look at the most popular scenarios that have been proposed in both ancient and modern times based upon this evidence, examining the merits and faults of each proposed scenario. Finally, we will summarize by attempting to discern which is the most probable of the various proposed ways of dealing with the evidence.
Before we start delving into the historical evidence, let's take just a moment to discount the ridiculous idea called the "Christ-myth hypothesis." The idea, the defining feature of which is that Jesus of Nazareth was not a real historical personality, originated amongst the proto-atheists, occults, and neo-pagans of the 18th and 19th centuries. Although popular amongst certain audiences at those times, it was subsequently utterly obliterated under the weight of real facts with the rise of a very thorough and scientific study of early Christian origins at the opening of the 20th century. Although it is completely discounted by scholars, the "Christ-myth hypothesis" has seen a resurgence amongst atheists and neo-pagans in recent years; perhaps the most famous and most popular version of the "Christ-myth hypothesis" is that which has been fabricated by Peter Joseph's Zeitgeist, The Movie and Archya S's The Christ Conspiracy: The Greatest Story Ever Sold, the book upon which the movie is based.
Leaving aside the world of intelligence-deficient conspiracy theorists and snake oil peddlers with the logical capacities of a five-year-old, here's what real scholars and academics in the field of early Christian studies have to say about the "Christ-myth hypothesis":
... from the eighteenth century onwards, there have been attempts to insist that Jesus did not even 'seem' to exist, and that all tales of his appearance upon the earth were pure fiction. In particular, his history was compared to the pagan mythologies inventing fictitious dying and rising gods.And another:
...In the first place, Judaism was a milieu to which doctrines of the deaths and rebirths of gods seem so entirely foreign that the emergence of such a fabrication from its midst is very hard to credit. But above all, if we apply to the New Testament, as we should, the same sort of criteria as we should apply to other ancient writings containing historical material, we can no more reject Jesus' existence than we can reject the existence of a mass of pagan personages whose reality as historical figures is never questioned. Certainly, there are all those discrepancies from one Gospel to another. But we do not deny that an event ever took place just because pagan historians such as, for example, Livy and Polybius, happen to have described it in differing terms. That there was a growth of legend round Jesus cannot be denied, and it arose very quickly. But there had also been a rapid growth of legend round pagan figures like Alexander the Great; and yet nobody regards him as wholly mythical and fictitious. To sum up, modern critical methods fail to support the Christ-myth theory. It has 'again and again been answered and annihiliated by first-rank scholars'. In recent years 'no serious scholar has ventured to postulate the non-historicity of Jesus' - or at any rate very few, and they have not succeeded in disposing of the much stronger, indeed very abundant, evidence to the contrary. (Michael Grant, Jesus: An Historian's Review of the Gospels, pp. 199-200 )
"What about those writers like Acharya S (The Christ Conspiracy) and Timothy Freke & Peter Gandy (The Jesus Mysteries), who say that Jesus never existed, and that Christianity was an invented religion, the Jewish equivalent of the Greek mystery religions?And another, a bit more concise:
This is an old argument, even though it shows up every 10 years or so. This current craze that Christianity was a mystery religion like these other mystery religions-the people who are saying this are almost always people who know nothing about the mystery religions; they've read a few popular books, but they're not scholars of mystery religions. The reality is, we know very little about mystery religions-the whole point of mystery religions is that they're secret! So I think it's crazy to build on ignorance in order to make a claim like this. I think the evidence is just so overwhelming that Jesus existed, that it's silly to talk about him not existing. I don't know anyone who is a responsible historian, who is actually trained in the historical method, or anybody who is a biblical scholar who does this for a living, who gives any credence at all to any of this." (Bart Ehrman, interview with David V. Barrett, "The Gospel According to Bart", Fortean Times, pg. 221 )
"I think that there are hardly any historians today, in fact I don't know of any historians today, who doubt the existence of Jesus... So I think that question can be put to rest." (N. T. Wright, "The Self-Revelation of God in Human History: A Dialogue on Jesus with N. T. Wright", in Antony Flew & Roy Abraham Vargese, There is a God, pg. 188 )And one more for good measure:
"When they say that Christian beliefs about Jesus are derived from pagan mythology, I think you should laugh. Then look at them wide-eyed and with a big grin, and exclaim, 'Do you really believe that?' Act as though you've just met a flat earther or Roswell conspirator." (William Lane Craig, "Question 90: Jesus and Pagan Mythology", Reasonable Faith )Yes, that's right; Christ-mythicism is right up there with aliens-probed-my-anus and the-holocaust-didn't-really-happen. And those who buy into it deserve nothing short of the mockery such a position merits.
Now that we've dismissed the lunacy, let's look at the historical documentation surrounding the Resurrection. Unfortunately, the nature of a blog post does not allow for an in depth analysis of every piece of historical evidence, but we'll take at least a glance at each; those who want to continue to investigate further are encouraged to do so. I also welcome any questions and I'd be happy to attempt to provide answers in requests for more information. In order not to complicate the issues too much, I have used the dating and attribution standard amongst scholars; I disagree, based on my own research, with some of the conclusions that are held by a majority of scholars today, but I have refrained from interjecting my own opinions as much as possible.
First and foremost amongst our historical sources for the Resurrection are, of course, the gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John and the letters of Paul.
The Gospel of Mark was probably the first of the four Biblical gospels to be written. Most scholars believe that it was written somewhere around AD 70. Mark, its author, was a disciple of the Apostle Peter (Peter describes him as "my son" in 1 Peter 5:13) and based the contents of his gospel upon what he learned from Peter, an eyewitness to the Resurrection of Christ.
The Gospel of Matthew was written by the Apostle Matthew in about AD 80. Matthew was himself an Apostle and an eyewitness of the Resurrected Christ.
The Gospel of Luke was written by in about AD 80 by Luke, a disciple of the Apostle Paul (Paul calls him "the beloved physician" in Colossians 4:14 and "my fellow-laborer" in Philemon 1:24; he also indicates that Luke was with him in Rome in 2 Timothy 4:11). Although not an eyewitness to the Ressurection himself, he traveled extensively with Paul and he also tells us in the opening verses of his gospel that he had based its contents upon the testimony of "those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word" (Luke 1:2).
The Gospel of John was written by the Apostle John, an eyewitness to the Resurrection of Christ and the last living Apostle, in about AD 90.
Paul's letters (13 or 14 total, depending on whether the Epistle to the Hebrews was written by him or not) were written to various churches and individuals between AD 40 and his death in AD 62. Paul himself was not an eyewitness to the Resurrection (though he did see and speak with the Resurrected Christ (see Acts 9), but, being an Apostle, he had close and constant associations with those who were:
"... He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time" (1 Corinthians 15:5-8, NKJV)There are other historical sources for information about the Resurrection of Christ, but these are the most important and so it is these that we will be dealing with in this post. For those who want more information, here is a list of writings either by eyewitnesses to the Resurrection or those who were friends and/or disciples of witnesses to the Resurrection:
- Didache [disciples of eyewitnesses]
- a Letter of James the Righteous [eyewitness]
- two Letters of the Apostle Peter [eyewitness]
- Acts of the Apostles (another work by the author of the Gospel of Luke) [disciple of eyewitnesses]
- Letter of Clement of Rome to the Corinthians [friend and disciple of eyewitnesses]
- three Letters and an Apocalypse by John (the same who wrote the Gospel of John) [eyewitness]
- Letter of the Apostle Jude (aka Thaddeus) [eyewitness]
- seven Letters of Ignatius of Antioch (to Polycarp, to the Smyrnaeans, to the Philadelphians, to the Romans, to the Trallians, to the Magnesians, and to the Ephesians) [friend and disciple of eyewitnesses]
- Letter of Polycarp of Smyrna to the Philippians [friend and disciple of an eyewitness]
- a book (now mostly lost to history, though some important fragments survive) by Papias of Hierapolis [disciple of eyewitnesses]
- a book (again, mostly lost to history, but with important surviving fragments) by Quadratus of Athens [disciple of eyewitnesses]
- Letter of Mathetes to Diognetus [disciple of eyewitnesses]
One of the most common arguments put forward against the Resurrection accounts in the gospels is that Christ's Resurrection would have occurred in about the year 30, whereas the gospels were all written in AD 70 and later -- 40 or more years after the events would have taken place. They will then often bring up the example of the "telephone game" in order to demonstrate how accounts written several decades after the actual events took place could be wildly different from what really happened.
There are quite a few flaws with all of this, though. First, there is the fact that two of the gospels were written by eyewitnesses (Matthew and John) and the other two were written by very close companions of eyewitnesses (Luke and Mark); surely those of you are old enough to do so can recall some truly remarkable event in your life 40 years ago -- something tells me that a dead body coming back to life after three days would stick in your memory!
I watched on an interview on the television not too long ago in which a World War II veteran talked about some of experiences during the war. World War II took place 70 years ago. Was he just making it all up?
Even so, let's pretend, for argument's sake, that none of the gospels were written by eyewitnesses or even associates of eyewitnesses -- perhaps associates of associates of eyewitnesses. The comparison with the "telephone game" still fails miserably. For those not familiar with the "telephone game," the rules are simple. The game is usually played in elementary school classrooms to demonstrate to children the dangers of gossip and how a message can become distorted when passed through a chain. The teacher will have all of the students sit in a line in the classroom; she then whispers a sentence into the ear of the student at the beginning of the line, who whispers it to the person next to him, who in turn whispers it to the person next to him, and on and on until it reaches the last person in line who then says it aloud for the whole class to hear, usually altered from the original sentence.
This is a very different scenario from that of the first century Christian Church. In the "telephone game," the person only gets to hear the sentence one time (or maybe two, depending on what version the class if playing). In the ancient Christian Church, the story of Christ's Resurrection -- the central truth claim of Christianity -- would have been repeated over and over again. Very few first century Christians were literate; they lived in a culture that largely passed down its stories and customs through oral tradition. Researchers have discovered oral traditions which accurately document events that took place hundreds of even thousands of years ago; the first century Christians would not have had a problem passing along a message for only 40 years.
In addition, the four gospels each came from a different part of the world. Luke wrote and disseminated his gospel in Rome; Matthew wrote and disseminated his gospel Syria; Mark wrote and disseminated his gospel in Alexandria, Egypt; and John wrote and disseminated his gospel in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). Those who compare the gospels to the "telephone game" would have us believe that the same message was passed down four different chains and all four chains produced the same message which was different from the original message; well, that would be a miracle in itself, wouldn't it?
There is the additional problem that this atheist argument generally ignores the letters of the Apostle Paul and focuses only on the Gospels. As already mentioned, most of Paul's letters were written in the AD 50s. His first letter, that to the Thessalonians may have been written as early as the 40s. Scholars are also in agreement that Paul cites earlier Christian writings, hymns, and oral traditions (for example, Philippians 2:5-11, which identifies Christ as God, is almost certainly a hymn already in use in the Christian Church well before Paul wrote his letter, as he quoted it expecting his readers to be familiar with it without further explanation being necessary). This means that already within 10-20 years after Christ's death, the Resurrection was already a central Christian belief (note the quote from 1 Corinthians, written in AD 55, at the beginning of this post).
How does such a thing happen within only 10 years? There was no "telephone game" to be had in such a short span. The people who were proclaiming the Resurrection only 10 years later had to have been the people who had witnessed it for themselves. If wasn't true, why did no one step forward to say that it wasn't? Why didn't the Roman authorities and/or the Jewish authorities, both of whom hated and persecuted the Christians, produce a body and destroy the Christian movement before it even got off the ground? There would have been plenty of eyewitnesses around at this point, but nobody rose up to dispel the Christian teaching of the Resurrection.
The "telephone game" analogy fails.
Another common attempt that atheists make to refute the Resurrection accounts of the gospels is to claim that they contradict each other. They will point out, for instance, that Matthew 28:2 says that there was "an" angel (singular) at Christ's empty tomb when it was discovered, but Luke 24:4 says that there were two angels. Similarly, Matthew 28:1 says that there were two women who discovered the empty tomb, while Mark 16:1 and Luke 24:10 both say there were three. There are other examples, but these are a couple of the atheists' favorites.
The problem with this argument is that this is exactly what we would expect if these were authentic eyewitness accounts. Eyewitnesses, especially to traumatic events (like, say, a dead man rising after three days!), are likely to have discrepancies between their accounts because of their individual and unique vantage points.
A man robs a liquor store and takes off with the cash. Police come and question the clerk and the three people who were in the store while the robbery occurred. The clerk says the robber's shirt was dark blue, two of the witnesses say it was black, and the other witness says it was navy blue. Does this mean the robbery didn't really happen and the police should pack up and head back to the station? Of course not!
Here's what a lawyer and retired judge, Herbert C. Casteel, has written on the matter:
"Each of the four Gospels gives an account of that first Easter Sunday when Jesus arose from the tomb. When we first read these accounts it appears they are in hopeless contradiction. Matthew says it was Mary Magdalene and the other Mary who went out to the tomb. Mark says it was Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome. Luke says it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them, and John mentions only Mary Magdalene. Furthermore, they all mention different people to whom Jesus appeared on that day.John Chrysostom, an Orthodox Christian bishop and theologian of the late 4th and early 5th centuries, reached the same conclusion even 1600 years ago:
Does this mean that these are false reports, made-up by dishonest men to deceive us? On the contrary, this is good evidence that these are truthful accounts, because people who conspire to testify to a falsehood rehearse carefully to avoid contradictions. False testimony appears on the surface to be in harmony, but discrepancies appear when you dig deeper. True accounts may appear on the surface to be contradictory, but are found to be in harmony when you dig deeper." (Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, College Press: 1992, 2nd rev.; p. 211ff)
"'But the contrary,' it may be said, 'hath come to pass, for in many places they [the gospels] are convicted of discordance.' Nay, this very thing is a very great evidence of their truth. For if they had agreed in all things exactly even to time, and place, and to the very words, none of our enemies would have believed but that they had met together, and had written what they wrote by some human compact; because such entire agreement as this cometh not of simplicity. But now even that discordance which seems to exist in little matters delivers them from all suspicion, and speaks clearly in behalf of the character of the writers.The argument that the gospel accounts contradict each other is a weak and desperate argument; it fails miserably.
But if there be anything touching times or places, which they have related differently, this nothing injures the truth of what they have said. And these things too, so far as God shall enable us, we will endeavor, as we proceed, to point out; requiring you, together with what we have mentioned, to observe, that in the chief heads, those which constitute our life and furnish out our doctrine, nowhere is any of them found to have disagreed, no not ever so little.
But what are these points? Such as follow: That God became man, that He wrought miracles, that He was crucified, that He was buried, that He rose again, that He ascended, that He will judge, that He hath given commandments tending to salvation, that He hath brought in a law not contrary to the Old Testament, that He is a Son, that He is only-begotten, that He is a true Son, that He is of the same substance with the Father, and as many things as are like these; for touching these we shall find that there is in them a full agreement.
And if amongst the miracles they have not all of them mentioned all, but one these, the other those, let not this trouble thee. For if on the one hand one had spoken of all, the number of the rest would have been superfluous; and if again all had written fresh things, and different one from another, the proof of their agreement would not have been manifest. For this cause they have both treated of many in common, and each of them hath also received and declared something of his own; that, on the one hand, he might not seem superfluous, and cast on the heap to no purpose; on the other, he might make our test of the truth of their affirmations perfect." (Homilies on the Gospel of St. Matthew, 1:6)
The fact is that there is such abundant historical evidence for the discovery of Christ's empty tomb three days after his death that most scholars and historians accept it as undeniable fact. Oxford University historian William Wand summarizes thus:
"All the strictly historical evidence we have is in favor of [the empty tomb], and those scholars who reject it ought to recognize that they do so on some other ground than that of scientific history." (Christianity: A Historical Religion?, 1972)This, however, is where many scholars and historians choose to stop. The common claim is that a historian cannot endorse a miraculous explanation of a historical event. The problem with this statement, as we will see, is that in the case of the empty tomb it it is the miraculous explanation that is the most likely.
We will now look at the five most commonly proposed explanations of the empty tomb by atheists, observing why each falls short:
- Stolen body theory This theory posits that someone (Christ's disciples being the most likely culprits) stole the body from the tomb. The tomb, however, was being guarded by highly-trained, highly-disciplined Roman soldiers; it's a stretch of the imagination, to say the least, to think that a bunch of scrawny, raggedy Judean peasants were able to either overwhelm the guards or sneak past them. Another problem with this theory is that it would have involved quite a few people to carry out; all but one of Christ's original twelve Apostles were martyred for their claim to have seen the Resurrected Christ. The stolen body theory ridiculously insinuates that at least eleven people died for something they knew to be a lie and not one recanted and confessed the truth. Where's the reward? Where's the motivation? Why the deception for nothing at all?
- Missing body theory This theory is similar to the stolen body theory but instead posits that someone other than the disciples removed the body from the tomb. Common candidates put forward are Joseph of Arimathea or maybe even the Roman soldiers themselves for some strange reason. The obvious question, though, is: why didn't these people produce a body when the disciples started claiming that Christ had Resurrected? That would have seemed the obvious answer to put an end to the young and much hated Christian movement.
- Swoon theory This theory states that Christ did not actually die on the cross, but instead only appeared to die, was placed in the tomb, and escaped on the third day. Just as with the stolen body theory, however, this ignores the training and discipline of Roman soldiers, in this case both the soldiers at the cross and those at the tomb. The soldiers who crucified Christ had no doubt crucified many criminals previously as crucifixion was a fairly common punishment in the ancient Roman Empire. They knew how to kill effectively. Also keep in mind that Christ had been scourged mercilessly and forced to carry his cross out of the city and up a hill to where he would be crucified. The gospels report that he was so weakened by his scourging that he fell and the Roman soldiers had to have another man, Simon of Cyrene, carry his cross instead just so that he could make it to the crucifixion site before dying! Christ then hung for three hours on the cross; after his "apparent" death, he was stabbed in the side by a Roman soldier's spear. He was then taken down from the cross, wrapped in his grave cloths, and placed in a cold, dark tomb which was sealed with a rock. The wounds inflicted on him were severe and the environment he was placed into was hardly what one would call comfortable. If he didn't die on the cross, he definitely would have died waiting in there for three days! There is also the question of motivation; why would a person put himself through such horrible pain and significant risk of death for apparently no reward? This theory is also hugely out of character for Christ, who consistently chastised others for being deceptive.
- Drugged body theory This theory is similar to the swoon theory, but adds to it the claim that Christ ingested some kind of drug which made him appear dead. This theory suffers from the same faults as the swoon theory and fails on the same grounds.
- Vision theory This theory posits that the disciples of Christ were so shaken by their master's death that they experienced a kind of group insanity in which they all witnessed a vision of the Resurrected Christ. The most glaring problem with this theory is that what we know of contemporary Judaism indicates that a glorified-bodily Resurrection like Christ's would not have been the Resurrection that was expected. The gospels also make clear that the disciples were not expecting a Ressurection of Christ at all. How, then, would they all simultaneously have had a vision which conflicted significantly with their cultural and personal expectations? And again there's the question: why didn't the Romans just produce the body and put an end to all the lunacy?
And then there are the facts. The fact is that each time the empty tomb -- that quite historically verifiable little event -- appears in the ancient documents, it is accompanied by one explanation: Christ is risen!
Using the reliable standard of Occam's razor -- that the simplest explanation is always the best explanation -- we can safely say that the Resurrection of Christ far and away the most likely explanation of the empty tomb. Every other theory proposed is a complicated mess with dozens of moving parts all working in perfect precision while attempting to work against each other -- the soldiers just happen to act of character and be idiots at the same time that the disciples act of character and mastermind a conspiracy at the same time that Christ acts of character and deceives them and he's just lucky enough that he didn't die even after a brutal lashing, carrying a large piece of wood some distance, being nailed to a cross for three hours, stabbed in the side, and placed in a tomb for days (thanks to the added stupidity of the Roman soldiers at the crucifixion site!) -- yeah, okay...
Like it or not, in the case of the empty tomb the most likely explanation is the miraculous explanation. And the only choice one has upon this realization is that he or she must become a Christian. The only question is: where to go now?
In the next installment in this series of posts, I will discuss the Orthodox Church, the Church founded by the Apostles.
Saturday, August 21, 2010
(h/t: Byzantine, TX)
(ROCOR-EAD) - With the blessing of His Eminence, Metropolitan Hilarion, on Thursday, August 12, His Grace Michael, Bishop of Geneva and Western Europe, conducted an archpastoral visit to the parish of Blessed Augustine in Jacmel, Haiti. The parish recently obtained new property on which the parishioners hope to build a new church. His Grace performed the rite of blessing of the land, co-served by Administrator of the ROCOR Mission in Haiti Archpriest Daniel McKenzie, his assistant Priest Matthew Williams, parish rector Priest Jean Chenier-Dumais, Priest Gregoire Legouté, and Deacon Andrei Rudenko (cleric of Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville).
Our parishes in Haiti are in dire need of financial assistance. The best way to support our brothers and sisters in Christ is through the newly established Haitian Orthodox Family Relief Program, which provides a means for sending much-needed monthly funds to a poor Orthodox family in Haiti for the period of one year. The site can be contacted through the Eastern American Diocesan website. Please take a moment to visit the new program at:
Thursday, August 19, 2010
A favorite figment of atheists' imaginations is the vaguely defined, rather broad category of "religion." Atheists seem to really enjoy arguing against this monster they have invented in their own minds; it is, after all, the perfect straw man. Muslim terrorists blow something up? "Religion" is violent! Hindus in the boondocks of India worship a cow with a strange genetic mutation? "Religion" is stupid! Animists somewhere in the wilds of central Africa practice female genital mutilation? Religion is misogynous! And so on and so on this fallacious argument rolls.
The problem, though, is that the horrible thing called "religion" is a fiction the atheists have invented to justify themselves. I'm not defending "religion" and I don't know of anybody who is; the very idea is ridiculous. Muslims don't defend Aztec human sacrifice; Mormon fundamentalists don't defend Muslim jihad; and Orthodox Christians don't defend Mormon fundamentalists' polygamy.
Imagine that I told you that democrats, republicans, monarchists, greens, libertarians, fascists, communists, anarchists, liberals, autarchists, conservatives, czarists, moderates, baathists, socialists, centrists, zionists, black nationalists, and agorists were "all the same" because they all are in the category of "political ideology." You'd at least give me a concerned look and, if you're as blunt as I am, you'd probably call me an idiot; and you'd be right. The same is true of atheists when they try to lump all "religions" into a single category and say they're "all the same." The only thing that Hindus, Taoists, Wiccans, Buddhists, Baha'is, Baptists, Roman Catholics, Muslims, Jews, Orthodox Christians, Animists, Asatruars, Anglicans, Satanists, Rastafarians, Sikhs, Shintoists, Mormons, Zoroastrians, and atheists all have in common is the name "religion."
Did you catch that? Yes, I included atheists on that list; atheists can deny it all they want, but atheism is indeed a religion. According to Dictionary.com, "religion" is defined as
"a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs."Atheism is certainly "a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe" and even atheism posits that the creation of the universe is the result of "a superhuman agency or agencies." According to the same website, "superhuman" is defined as "above or beyond what is human; having a higher nature or greater powers than humans have." I don't know of any atheists who think that humans can or did create the universe; they posit a "superhuman agency" in the form of the "big bang" or some other similar event (or, if you're Richard Dawkins, aliens did it!).
Continuing with our definition of religion... Religions "usually" involve "devotional and ritual observances," but that's usually -- not always. We've already seen that atheism contains no moral code beyond hedonism, but religions "often" -- not always -- contain one.
I can hear even now the objections of atheists: "But I don't believe in a god though!" Neither do Buddhists. "But I don't believe in an afterlife!" Neither did Sadducee Jews. "But, but, but..." Atheism is indeed a religion.
That's okay though; it's an inescapable aspect of human nature. Humans naturally wonder if there is something greater than themselves and, if so, what -- or who -- that might be. Humans naturally think about what happens to them after death. And so on. Every human being on the planet has religious ideas, even if those ideas are a constant "no" answer. Atheism is not the rejection of religion(s); atheism is a religion. As an Orthodox Christian, I reject every other religion than Orthodox Christianity; mine is still a religion.
If atheists want to be honest in their arguments (and if they want their arguments to be taken seriously), they're going to have to admit that and they're going to have to consider and argue against every other religion than atheism individually, not as some imaginary mass.
Now that we have cleared away the figment of "religion," in the next post of this series we will get more specific and look at Christianity -- and why its central truth claim is so very -- and uniquely -- strong.
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
The most common moral objections that atheists raise against Christianity are accusations concerning the Crusades, the Inquisitions, and the wars found in the Old Testament. While a single blog post does not provide nearly enough space or time to address each of these complicated topics in depth, I will here very briefly address each, demonstrating why each objection fails historically. I will also attempt to summarize by explaining why they fail logically as a whole.
First of all, I want to make clear before we begin looking at the Crusades and the Inquisitions that I am an Orthodox Christian, not a Roman Catholic or a Protestant. As an Orthodox Christian, I believe the Roman Catholic Church and the various Protestant bodies which have broken off from the Roman Catholic Church since the 16th century to be in heresy. I accept them as Christians, certainly, insofar as they believe in Christ Jesus as Lord, God, and Savior, but the Orthodox Church, the Church founded by Christ through the Apostles and sustained by the Holy Spirit through the Fathers, cannot be held accountable for what those in schism from it and in heresy away from it have done; this is especially true given the fact that the Roman Catholic Crusades and Inquisitions often targeted Orthodox Christians! It is very important to keep in mind as you read my brief thoughts and explanations here on the history of the Crusades and Inquisitions that the Holy Church of which I am a member was a victim, not a belligerent, in these events.
Contrary to the false understanding of the Crusades that most people today have, the Crusades were neither unwarranted nor were they an attempt to force Muslims to convert to Roman Catholic Christianity. The Crusades were called in response to vociferous Muslim aggression against Christians and in response to a call for help from Alexios I, the Emperor of the Byzantine Empire, the formerly-great Christian empire largely situated in the Middle East, North Africa, and Southeastern Europe, which was quickly being devoured by the Islamic onslaught.
In 1009, the Muslim leader Caliph al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah ordered the destruction of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site both of Christ's Crucifixion and his Resurrection, and Christianity's most holy place. Christian pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land were frequently robbed, kidnapped, and murdered by the Muslims. The Byzantine Empire, the greatest Christian empire in history and a bulwark against Muslim incursion into Europe from the east, was rapidly disappearing as Muslim armies conquered, plundered, massacred, and ravaged their way toward its capital in Constantinople; it's Emperor, Alexios I, issued a desperate plea for help to the Christians of Western Europe. This was the situation that Pope Urban II was facing and had to address when he called for the First Crusade in 1095.
It's difficult to conjecture historically, but it is highly likely that had Pope Urban II not seen fit to call for the First Crusade, the Byzantine Empire would have fallen to Muslim invasion much sooner than it did (Constantinople was finally conquered in 1453) and movement of Muslim armies into Europe from the east would have begun immediately afterwards (just as they eventually did). Given the weak and divisive state of the various Western European kingdoms following the collapse of the Carolingian Empire in the 9th century, it can be said with some certainty that if it were not for the Crusades, a tactical strike into the heart of Islamic territory in the Holy Lands, Europe would have become a Muslim continent.
All of this is not to say that the Crusades were an entirely clean-handed affair. The massacre of Jews, Muslims, and Orthodox Christians that followed the capture of Jerusalem by the Crusaders in 1099 is a tragedy. The Fourth Crusade in 1204, which saw the Crusaders disobey orders from the Pope of Rome and turn to sack and plunder Constantinople, desecrating its holy churches, monasteries, and other holy sites, is one of the most horrendous acts in history. Need I emphasize again that this particular act specifically targeted Orthodox Christians? And yet I stand firm in defense of the historical fact that had it not been for the Crusades Europe would have been conquered by the Muslims; there would have been no Renaissance, no Enlightenment, and certainly no modern world. In spite of the individual evils committed by various individual Crusaders, the Crusades as a whole were not unjustified and were ultimately necessary violence; they were a series of largely defensive wars to protect Europe from Muslim conquest and the Christians of Europe from the plunder and persecution that would have inevitably ensued.
The Inquisitions make for an even more complicated topic than the Crusades due to the great differences in methods, means, style, and goals between the various Inquisitions. I will not even attempt to summarize the Inquisitions, but only offer a few observations and then a couple of book suggestions for more in depth reading on the Inquisitions.
Contrary to the popular misunderstanding of the Inquisitions which was invented by Protestant apologists as anti-Roman Catholic propaganda in the 17th and 18th centuries and which has been repeated and exaggerated by neo-pagan and atheist apologists as anti-Christian propaganda in modern times, the Inquisitions did not primarily target poor, innocent "witches" nor was it anything even remotely approaching the bloodbath that some would like to paint it as. The primary targets of the Inquisitions were heretics; the purpose of the Inquisitions was to root out heresy from within the Church and the Inquisitions had no authority whatsoever over unbaptized (i.e. non-Christian) individuals. Since the discovery and release of thousands of formerly unknown documents related to the Inquisitions in the 1970s, historians and other scholars have concluded that the Inquisitions actually were very thorough in their investigations and in nearly all cases those convicted actually were guilty of gross moral offenses and/or fomenting treason against the Roman Catholic Church and/or the government. In addition, the actual number of people killed is far less than the huge numbers that modern neo-pagans and atheists like to claim; within the nearly seven hundred year time span (1184-1860) that encompasses the Inquisitions, the actual number of people sentenced to death was less than ten thousand and perhaps as low as three thousand.
For those who want to read more about what modern scholarship has revealed concerning the myths of the Inquisitions, here are a few recommended books:
- Peters, Edward. Inquisition. New York: Free, 1988.
- Kamen, Henry. The Spanish Inquisition: A Historical Revision. New Haven: Yale UP, 1999.
- Bethencourt, Francisco. The Inquisition: A Global History, 1478 - 1834. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ., 2009.
First, it is a Semitic habit to exaggerate. "Destroy utterly" rarely means "destroy utterly" in a literal sense. Our modern Western way of reading everything in a factual, literal manner is the product of a combination of the influence of the Bible(!) and the Enlightenment. This is not the way that Semites thought and read in ancient times nor is it the way that they think and read even today. I have spent two years living amongst Arabs and five years studying their culture, society, religion, habits, language, etc. I can tell you from firsthand experience that the Semitic tendency to exaggerate is alive and well even in 2010. This can also be seen across Hebrew, Syriac, Arabic, etc. literature both ancient and modern.
The fact that the Israelites did not completely destroy or wipe out their enemies is easily seen by turning to the book of Judges, which follows immediately after the wars under Moses and Joshua. The book of Judges is largely a record of the devastating influences that the pagan Canaanites living around and within Israel had upon the Israelites, including introducing them to idol worship, infant sacrifice, and extreme misogyny.
The next important point that atheists choose to overlook in regards to the wars of the Old Testament is that the pagan Canaanites were hardly peaceful and innocent people. Not only did they practice infant sacrifice (by burning children alive) and were terribly misogynistic (essentially treating women as property), as I already mentioned, they were also allies of the Egyptians (the Israelite's worst enemies) and enemies of the Israelites; often it was the Canaanites who marched out to war against the Israelites first.
The most important point that can be made against the arguments of the atheists on this matter, however, is one of the standard upon which they judge the wars of the Old Testament. As I discussed briefly in my first post in this series, modern Western morality is derived from the Judeo-Christian tradition; the primary literary source of this tradition, obviously, is the Bible. In pre-Christian times, nearly all war was "total war." There was rarely a division drawn between combatants and non-combatants, victors were entitled to plunder their enemies (including enslaving and raping their wives and children), and conquered cities were rarely left standing unless it afforded some benefit to the victors to allow this. In this light, the wars of the Israelites, restrained from raping and indiscriminately plundering, seem like children's stories.
Even so, this conception of war as total destruction only changed with the beginning of Christian governments in the 4th century. Church Fathers such as Basil of Caesarea and Augustine of Hippo developed the concept of a "just war," in which combatants and non-combatants are separated, unnecessary death and destruction are avoided, peace is consistently sought after, etc., and they based this new concept of a just war on the Scriptures!
The great irony in the atheists' arguments is that they have been raised in a culture in which "just war" is the normal expectation and so it has been ingrained in them as their own expectation. This concept of just war is based upon the Scriptures. And they attempt to use this Scripture-derived view of war as a basis upon which to judge the Scriptures themselves! This same irony applies to atheists' criticisms of the Crusades and the Inquisitions. I doubt that atheists realize how foolish this makes them look.
I have heard many atheists who claimed that it is just such things as these that "drove" them away from Christianity. This is, however, an utterly ridiculous claim.
Not only is there the fact, already outlined, that it is absurd to reject Christianity based on Christian moral assumptions, there is in addition the fact that atheists and their worldview have been responsible for more death and destruction in only the past century than Christians have been for their entire 20 centuries of existence!
Joseph Stalin, Nikita Krushchev, Nicolae Ceauşescu, Mao Tse-Tung, Pol Pot, Ho Chi Minh, and the rest of the leaders of the atheist communists of Eastern Europe and Asia in the 20th century were responsible for hundreds of millions of deaths. They persecuted Christians (and, in Mao's case Buddhists as well), having them imprisoned, tortured, maimed, and massacred; they forcefully starved entire nations (such as Stalin's treatment of the Ukraine); they mass-murdered people for entirely arbitrary reasons (such as Pol Pot's edict against people who wear glasses); the indiscriminate brutality of these atheists both in war with foreign nations and even with their own people in "peace time" is unprecedented in all of history.
Although Adolph Hitler's religious beliefs are a hotly debated topic amongst historians, there is substantial evidence to indicate that he was an atheist. Whether he was or not, however, his genocidal campaign against Jews, blacks, homosexuals, gypsies, Slavs, etc. was influenced by atheistic "scientific" motivations. The "science" of eugenics, based on Charles Darwin's theory of evolution and survival of the fittest (still a favorite amongst atheists), was the motivating factor behind the Holocaust.
Eugenics was also a major motivation for Margaret Sanger, an avowed atheist, who founded the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Sanger was one of the loudest voices in the early 20th century in favor of increased used of contraceptives and her organization, Planned Parenthood, is the largest abortion (i.e. prenatal infanticide) provider and abortion "rights" activist group in America today. As part of her eugenics agenda, she founded Planned Parenthood clinics in the neighborhoods of blacks and other ethnic minorities all over the United States; these are still the prime locations of Planned Parenthood clinics today. In 2007, the most recent year for which I could find statistics, Planned Parenthood murdered 305,310 unborn babies. This is what atheism does to people.
Anyone who claims they left Christianity for atheism because of "all the bad things" Christians have done is being ludicrous. At best, they've jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire. The body count of atheists in the 20th century alone is in the hundreds of millions, probably approaching very closely to a billion; the Crusades and the Inquisitions can't even compare remotely with this.
We've already seen, in my first post of this series, that atheism has no moral foundation and tends naturally toward nihilism, utilitarianism, and hedonism. Atheism distorts everything that we think of as humanity. Atheism leads people like Richard Dawkins to declare that human children are of no more inherent value than apes and aardvarks, rather than seeing man as created in the image of God; we're all animals anyway, right? Atheism led the communists and the Nazis to a complete disregard for human suffering and life in the hopes of creating their respective atheist utopias, rather than caring for the poor and the sick. Atheism continues to lead people today to murdering unborn infants in horrible ways (see, for instance, the intact dilation and extraction [IDX] method) rather than caring for the young and the weak.
And atheists think they have the right to try to judge Christians based on Christian moral values? Please!
In my next post in this series, we will steer away from the field of morality as I believe that topic has been thoroughly covered now. We will instead look at the flaws in the common atheist rejection of the phantom straw-man called "religion."
Monday, August 16, 2010
I think that it can be said without the need to provide supporting evidence that the majority of people of any faith, whether Christianity or atheism or any other religious or philosophical idea or group, live that faith passively. I do not intend by this to say that Christians and atheists live identifical lives. Even someone who passively or halfheartedly lives the Christian life will, I believe and stand as a witness with personal testimony, live a life which inspires hope, nurses authentic love, and carries with and within it a quiet but intense joy; these are things that an atheist's worldview, decidely pessimistic and ultimately fatalistic, can never engender in its adherents.
Be that as it may, on the surface there is probably very little difference to the casual observer between the daily life of the average atheist and the daily life of the average Christian. Both live rather average lives; both obey the speed limit (most of the time), cross the road only after looking both ways, and put their pants on one leg a time.
What I mean by this is that the great majority of those who call themselves, for instance, "Buddhist" do not actively live the highest callings of that faith, but, having been born into and raised within that faith, tacitly and unquestioningly accept whatever they know of its teachings. The highest calling for a Buddhist, and the ideal life as taught by the Buddha, is a monastic life of constant meditation and detachment from all worldly relations and possessions; there are relatively few Buddhists who actually embrace this ideal, however.
With that in mind, I hold that when examining the positive and/or negative effects and results of a given philosophy, we cannot look at the "average" adherent to that idea, who probably has a limited knowledge of the intricacies of the tenets of that philosophy and almost certainly only selectively applies its principles to their activities and thoughts. We must, instead, look to the most outstanding examples of a philosophy, those who have internalized its message and sought to actively embody its principles, if we are to see what is the real, deep meaning and consequence of a philosophy. While looking at the most outstanding examples of a philosophy, in order to really understand the meaning and consequence of that philosophy, we must, to some extent imitating Immanuel Kant's categorical imperative, ask ourselves the question: "What if everyone did this? What if every person were such an outstanding example of x philosophy? What results would this produce?"
That Christianity has produced many truly remarkable outstanding examples is so well known that it probably goes without saying. Basil of Caesarea, a 4th century Christian bishop in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) and theologian, created the world's first hospitals. John of Kronstadt, a 19th century Christian priest in Russia, dedicated his entire life to serving the poor, expending all of his time and economic resources on improving conditions for and providing loving care to the impoverished people around him; he would even often, to the consternation of his busy wife, give away his own shoes if he came across someone whose shoes were too worn out! Peter Claver, a 17th century Roman Catholic priest, dedicated his entire life to caring for and fighting for the humane treatment of African slaves in the Americas. I could go on and on with examples; the bishops, monks, and nuns of all times and today provide the most numerous examples, as a group of people who have chosen to dedicate their entire lives to living the principles of the Gospel. But, for the sake of brevity and simplicity in this post, I will confine myself here to a single example, arguably the most remarkable example of a lived Christian faith in recent decades: the Roman Catholic nun Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
Mother Teresa was born in 1910 in what was then the Ottoman Empire but is now the Republic of Macedonia. Mother Teresa began her life as a nun at the age of 18 in 1928; she went to India, the country where she would do most of her work, the following year. She founded the Missionaries of Charity, the organization from which most of her later fame would derive, in 1950 with the intention to, as she wrote, care for "the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone." And this she did until her death at the age of 87 in 1997.
Of her 87 years, 69 of them were spent as a nun, 68 years were spent in India, and 47 years were spent specifically dedicated to the mission already quoted. Conveyed in ratios, this means that she spent 79% of her life as a nun and 54% dedicated specifically to her mission to the poor and sick as head of the Missionaries of Charity. Why is all of this important? Thomas Cahill, in his book Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before and After Jesus, tells the story of Malcolm Muggeridge's famous conversion from atheism to Roman Catholicism, answering our question:
"Malcolm Muggeridge, the supremely secular British curmudgeon, who cast a cold eye over so many contemporary efforts and enterprises, was brought up short while visiting an Indian leprosarium run by the Missionaries of Charity, the sisters founded by Mother Teresa of Calcutta. He had always imagined secular humanism to be the ideal worldview but realized, while strolling through this facility, built with love for those whom no one wanted, that no merely humanist vision can take account of lepers, let alone take care of them. To offer humane treatment to humanity's outcasts, to overcome their lifetime experience of petty human cruelties, requires more than mere humanity. Humanists, he realized with the force of sudden insight, do not run leprosariums."In other words, there are no atheist Mother Teresas, and there are two important reasons why there are none:
- Atheism does not demand anything of its adherents; it is an easy philosophy -- the easiest philosophy. Christianity demands of those who would live its highest callings that they are to sell all of their possessions, give the earnings to the poor, and follow in Jesus' footsteps (Matthew 19:21). Even from its "average" adherents, Christianity demands that they feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, be hospitable to strangers, shelter the homeless, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit the prisoners. Jesus even went as far as to identify himself with all of the weakest members of society, telling his followers that whatever they did to and for these they did to and for him and whatever they failed to do they failed to do to or for him (see the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, Matthew 25:31-46). Christianity issues absolute commandments to its adherents; it is a demanding philosophy. Christianity demands of its adherents a life of dedication to the poor, the weak, the sick, the outcast, the orphan, and the widow; the effects of this demand shine through in the lives of people like Mother Teresa who actually follow out this demand in full. Atheism demands nothing and, consequently, it produces nothing.
- From an atheistic perspective, Mother Teresa is, to be blunt, either a moron or, at best, a lunatic. According to modern atheism, we only have one life to live; after this life, when we die we cease to exist. Our consciousness is extinguished; our bodies are placed into the ground where they decay and are eaten by microorganisms and insects. That's the end of the story. There is no afterlife, there is no resurrection, there is no hope for eternity. For someone, like Mother Teresa, to waste over half of her life living in squalor in a ghetto in Calcutta, India, risking her own health by surrounding herself day after day with sick and dying people, is, from the perspective of a modern atheist, ridiculous. If we only have so many years, so many days, so many hours until our very existence is permanently extinguished, why waste the majority of it suffering and laboring to care for a bunch of people you don't know and would never have met unless you'd chosen to place yourself (and why would you?) in that filthy Indian slum? What a ludicrous waste of time!
Now you might be asking, what does this matter? So what if atheism can't, won't, and doesn't produce Mother Teresas? What's the big deal? Apply Kant's categorical imperative which I mentioned previously in this post. Imagine a world of atheists; this necessarily means a world with no Mother Teresas. This means a world where the ideal morality is some form of "enlightened" selfishness. There is no reason to care for those with terminal illnesses, whose utility has expired and whose very existence will soon expire; how much less is there reason to dedicate one's life to doing so!
Not only is this a world with no Mother Teresas, this is also a world with no Martin Luther Kings, no Mahatma Gandhis, no Basil the Greats, no Peter Clavers. An atheist world is a world with no call to or inspiration for or desire for a life of dedication and devotion to causes like the equality of human beings (a uniquely Judeo-Christian concept itself), or care for the sick, comfort for the dying, feading the starving, and assisting the impoverished (all, again, uniquely Judeo-Christian concepts themselves). This atheistic world is a sad, terrifying place.
There are some atheists who might respond at this point: "So what? I don't expect the whole world to become atheists like me; let them keep doing what they're doing." But, of course, this is a genuinely selfish and arrogant response. "The world is a better place because Christians are in it and would suffer unfathomable harm were they to leave it entirely, but I'm too smart or too good or too whatever to be one of them. I'll leave it to the Christians to comfort the poor and the sick and the dying and to carry the banner of and bear the suffering for fighting for causes like justice and equality, while I live out my life in selfish indulgence." That is what this answer amounts to.
I'm sure that there are also some reading this right now muttering to themselves about how wrong I am. "Atheists can do things like that too!" I hear someone yelling. That's fine; here's my challenge: if I'm wrong, prove it! Find me an atheist Mother Teresa and I will retract this point. I encourage you to try -- but you won't be able to.
In my next post in this series, I will address the common atheist claims concerning the immorality or bad conduct of Christians both past and present.
Sunday, August 15, 2010
I also want to state, for the record, that I think atheism is actually a very good option in some cases, as it was in mine when I was a "believing atheist." When faced with the false "gospel" (which is really no gospel at all) of much of American (pseudo-)Christianity, with its angry "Father" demanding the blood of a righteous man to satisfy his wrath and ordering that all either love him or suffer eternal torments in hell, atheism really is the compassionate, logical option to take.
Having said all of that, I have found the True Gospel (thanks be to God): the Orthodox Faith, as taught by the Holy Apostles and Fathers of the Orthodox Church. And, in retrospect, I see many flaws with my previous choice of atheism. Modern atheism is logically inconsistent, philosophically bankrupt, and historically flawed, and my goal in this series of posts is to demonstrate each of these points. In this post, I will explain, in part, what I mean when I say that modern atheism is logically inconsistent.
The logical inconsistency of modern atheism is largely found in its notions of morality. The vast majority of modern atheists, I'm sure, are more than willing to say that, to focus on a single example for the sake of demonstration, infanticide is morally repugnant. The problem that the modern atheist encounters here, however, is that he has no objective standard by which to deem it immoral.
Infanticide was not only rampant in the ancient pre-Christian world, but widely accepted and, in many cases, even lauded. Infanticide was practiced in nearly every pre-Christian culture, but it is Greco-Roman culture, being the cultural milieu in which Christianity eventually took most firm root, that especially concerns us here. In the ancient Roman Empire, when a child was born, it was immediately presented to the pater familias, the male head of the household. He then made the decision as to whether the child was to live or die. If the child was unwanted by him for any reason, including economic reasons, or perhaps that the child was a female, or that he suspected it to be illegitimate, or any other reason, no matter how arbitrary, it was taken away to die. The Twelve Tables, the foundation of Roman law, in fact obligated the pater familias to send away any infant with visible deformities to die.
Oxyrhynchus papyrus 744.G, a letter from a husband to his pregnant wife written while he was away on a business trip, demonstrates the callousness and casualness with which infanticide was treated in the ancient Greco-Roman world; he writes:
"I am still in Alexandria. ... I beg and plead with you to take care of our little child, and as soon as we receive wages, I will send them to you. In the meantime, if (good fortune to you!) you give birth, if it is a boy, let it live; if it is a girl, expose it."The exposure here referred to was the preferred manner of disposing of unwanted infants in the Greco-Roman world. The most common means of exposure included placing the child in remote places where it would likely be eaten by wild animals or placing the infant into a clay jar and leaving it outside the house to die of asphyxiation or dehydration.
One of the most remarkable features of early Christianity, a feature for which they were noticed (and often mocked) by their non-Christian neighbors, was the opposition of early Christians to the practice of infanticide. Two first century Christian documents, the Didache and the Epistle of St. Barnabas, both issue the same commandment to Christians, an absolute ban on infanticide (as well as prenatal infanticide, i.e. abortion):
"Thou shalt not murder a child by abortion, nor again shalt thou kill it when it is born."The first laws in the Roman Empire which banned the practice of infanticide were enacted by the first Christian Roman Emperor, St. Constantine the Great, in AD 318. In AD 374, the Christian Roman Emperor Valentinian made infanticide a capital crime. The notion of infanticide as a terrible crime became, because of Christian opposition to it, ingrained into the Western worldview to the point where the thought of murdering a defenseless little infant turns stomachs amongst modern Western people; this was not so in the pre-Christian world and would not have been so but for Christianity.
So why did Christianity so actively oppose infanticide? Why did it break from what was then the commonly accepted practice and choose the diametric opposite course? Because of Christianity's two great revolutionary ideas, one of them derived from its Jewish inheritance and the other an innovation all its own, a strengthening and solidifying of its Jewish inheritance:
- That idea derived from the Jews is that man is made in the image of God (see Genesis 1:26). This image gives man a special stature and sanctity all his own; this stature and sanctity does not depend on one's health, wealth, power, beauty, strength, or anything else other than simply being a human being. Each and every human being, from the most insignificant peasant working his farm in the countryside of Judea, to the greatest and most powerful king, reigning from his throne in Jerusalem, is of value and possesses inherent and intrinsic worth and dignity. What a revolutionary idea! So completely different from everything before it and around it!
- The uniquely Christian idea in this equation is the Incarnation, the belief that God became man in the Person of Jesus Christ. In taking on human flesh, God in fact sanctified all human flesh, imparting divinity to it; through the Incarnation, humanity became sacred, not only created in God's image but now sharing in his divinity. This all is intimately bound up in the early Christian belief called "recapitulation," a belief which Orthodox Christians cling to today as one of the central mysteries of the Christian Faith but which most of Western "Christianity" long ago either pushed to the back burner or discarded entirely. The doctrine of recapitulation consists of the belief that God assumed, and thereby redeemed and sanctified, the various aspects of humanity and of the material world. St. Irenaeus of Lyons, an early Christian bishop and apologist, explains the doctrine of recapitulation in reference to the various ages of human beings thus:
"... not despising or evading any condition of humanity, nor setting aside in Himself that law which He had appointed for the human race, but sanctifying every age, by that period corresponding to it which belonged to Himself. For He came to save all through means of Himself—all, I say, who through Him are born again to God—infants, and children, and boys, and youths, and old men. He therefore passed through every age, becoming an infant for infants, thus sanctifying infants; a child for children, thus sanctifying those who are of this age, being at the same time made to them an example of piety, righteousness, and submission; a youth for youths, becoming an example to youths, and thus sanctifying them for the Lord. So likewise He was an old man for old men, that He might be a perfect Master for all, not merely as respects the setting forth of the truth, but also as regards age, sanctifying at the same time the aged also, and becoming an example to them likewise." (Against Heresies, book 2, chapter 22)
This makes for a conundrum for the modern atheist. The average modern atheist desires to retain the Christian morality which views infanticide as a horrible crime, while removing the theological basis upon which this morality is built. This like trying to remove the bottom blocks on a Jenga tower while hoping the tower doesn't collapse; as the saying goes: "you can't have your cake and eat it too." This is what I mean when I refer to the logical inconsistency of modern atheism.
There are some, however, who are gradually beginning to realize that there cannot be Christian morality without Christian theology. The effects are simultaneously frightening (to those of us who desire to maintain Christian morality as the standard) and logically laudable (for their attempts at an honest atheism). And we are witnessing, currently, the rotten fruits of this absurdity of modern atheism in our culture as we slowly slip backwards into paganism.
Not only has abortion (i.e. prenatal infanticide) become a legal and acceptable practice, already there are voices, and not fringe ones but prominent and mainstream ones, who are advocating for the return of infanticide. Here is Peter Singer, a prominent atheist voice and Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University:
"In Chapter 4 we saw that the fact that a being is a human being, in the sense of a member of the species Homo sapiens, is not relevant to the wrongness of killing it; it is, rather, characteristics like rationality, autonomy, and self-consciousness that make a difference. Infants lack these characteristics. Killing them, therefore, cannot be equated with killing normal human beings, or any other self-conscious beings. This conclusion is not limited to infants who, because of irreversible intellectual disabilities, will never be rational, self-conscious beings. We saw in our discussion of abortion that the potential of a fetus to become a rational, self-conscious being cannot count against killing it at a stage when it lacks these characteristics - not, that is, unless we are also prepared to count the value of rational self-conscious life as a reason against contraception and celibacy. No infant - disabled or not - has as strong a claim to life as beings capable of seeing themselves as distinct entities, existing over time." (Practical Ethics, 2nd edition)As morally despicable as this is, at least it is logically coherent and consistent, more than can be said for most modern atheism. Although not advocating for infanticide, here is a somewhat lengthier selection from one of the writings of Richard Dawkins, perhaps the most famous and prominent modern atheist, in which he compares human infants to aardvarks and questions why the former should be automatically considered of more value than the latter, and, in the final paragraph of this quoted selection, points a mocking finger at the Christian notion that humanity has inherent value and dignity:
The atheist, plainly stated, has no means by which to argue against this, no matter if he recognizes the moral repugnance and absurdity of such statements. For the atheist, man is not created in the image of God and can bear no inherent value or dignity. Since man is not divinely endowed with value and dignity, man only has the value and dignity which he is granted by other men. Atheist morality naturally tends to utilitarianism, as a morality of utility is the only truly logical atheist morality."Sir,
You appeal for money to save the gorillas. Very laudable, no doubt. But it doesn't seem to have occurred to you that there are thousands of human children suffering on the very same continent of Africa. There'll be time enough to worry about gorillas when we've taken care of every last one of the kiddies. Let's get our priorities right, please!
This hypothetical letter could have been written by almost any well-meaning person today. In lampooning it, I don't mean to imply that a good case could not be made for giving human children priority. I expect it could, and also that a good case could be made the other way. I'm only trying to point the finger at the automatic, unthinking nature of the speciesist double standard. To many people it is simply self-evident, without any discussion, that humans are entitled to special treatment. To see this, consider the following variant on the same letter:
You appeal for money to save the gorillas. Very laudable, no doubt. But it doesn't seem to have occurred to you that there are thousands of aardvarks suffering on the very same continent of Africa. There'll be time enough to worry about gorillas when we've saved every last one of the aardvarks. Let's get our priorities right, please!
This second letter could not fail to provoke the question: What's so special about aardvarks? A good question, and one to which we should require a satisfactory answer before we took the letter seriously. Yet the first letter, I suggest, would not for most people provoke the equivalent question: What's so special about humans? As I said, I don't deny that this question, unlike the aardvark question, very probably has a powerful answer. All that I am criticising is an unthinking failure to realise in the case of humans that the question even arises.
The speciesist assumption that lurks here is very simple. Humans are humans and gorillas are animals. There is an unquestioned yawning gulf between them such that the life of a single human child is worth more than the lives of all the gorillas in the world. The 'worth' of an animal's life is just its replacement cost to its owner — or, in the case of a rare species, to humanity. But tie the label Homo sapiens even to a tiny piece of insensible, embryonic tissue, and its life suddenly leaps to infinite, uncomputable value." ("Gaps in the Mind," in The Great Ape Project)
Logically speaking, a child born with Down's syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy, or any number of other disabilities and disabling diseases has little if any utility. An infant born with Down's syndrome will cause great amounts of grief, sorrow, and economic hardship to its parents; it will be a lifelong economic, emotional, and physical burden. There is no good logical reason why such a child should not be killed. The same can even be said of healthy infants who are born to parents who, for whatever reason, cannot or will not support and raise the child without significant hardship.
In an atheist worldview we are animals, hence Dawkins' unwillingness to value the life of a human infant as worth more than that of an aardvark. This is only logical; aside from its utility, one animal has no more value than another. According to the standard of value-by-utility, a healthy workhorse is of infinitely more value than an infant with cerebral palsy; if faced with a decision over whether to feed one's workhorse or one's disable infant with one's limited resources, the obvious logical option is to feed the workhorse and let the human infant die.
This is the startling, stomach-churning truth about the modern atheist worldview. That many modern atheists refuse to look this truth in the eye and make their choice between amorality and Christianity is only the product of their own incapacity for philosophical reasoning and unwillingness to be consistent at the cost of their deeply-ingrained Christian moral worldview. In the end, though, this is nothing short of hypocrisy and cowardice.
Whether they are able to summon the philosophical subtlety and intestinal fortitude to face up to these hard truths or not, the fact is that there are some (like Peter Singer) who are more than willing to do so. And, of more consequence, all people will eventually do so unconsciously as the atheist worldview continues to gain ground in our culture, hence the previously mentioned slow but steady slip of our culture backwards into paganism. People will continue to ask "why?" whether consciously or unconsciously and, without the theological underpinnings that Christianity has provided to modern morality, there is no logical answer to that question.
I will close with a short selection from one of the writings of perhaps the only honest atheist in all of history: Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche is the only atheist I have ever encountered who had a truly consistent philosophy. He was willing to allow his famous thesis that "God is dead" to be carried through to its logical conclusions, namely, that all God-ordained morality has been abolished along with God. Nietzsche advocated fiercely in his writings for a return to the brutality and selfishness and "might makes right" attitude of ancient paganism; he was not shy about admitting that he admired the people famous for their gladiator contests and oppression of the weak. He declared that the "slave morality" (as he called it) of Christianity should be abolished and replaced with this pagan morality. Here is a taste:
To refrain mutually from injury, from violence, from exploitation, and put one's will on a par with that of others: this may result in a certain rough sense in good conduct among individuals when the necessary conditions are given (namely, the actual similarity of the individuals in amount of force and degree of worth, and their co-relation within one organization). As soon, however, as one wished to take this principle more generally, and if possible even as the fundamental principle of society, it would immediately disclose what it really is—namely, a Will to the denial of life, a principle of dissolution and decay.This should be disturbing to every person with a moral sense, but perfectly acceptable to every atheist who wants a consistent worldview. Modern atheism turns the saying of Christ that "with God all things are possible" (Matthew 19:26) on its head, declaring in its stead that "without God all things are permissible."
Here one must think profoundly to the very basis and resist all sentimental weakness: life itself is essentially appropriation, injury, conquest of the strange and weak, suppression, severity, obtrusion of peculiar forms, incorporation, and at the least, putting it mildest, exploitation;—but why should one for ever use precisely these words on which for ages a disparaging purpose has been stamped?
Even the organization within which, as was previously supposed, the individuals treat each other as equal—it takes place in every healthy aristocracy—must itself, if it be a living and not a dying organization, do all that towards other bodies, which the individuals within it refrain from doing to each other -- it will have to be the incarnated Will to Power, it will endeavour to grow, to gain ground, attract to itself and acquire ascendancy—not owing to any morality or immorality, but because it lives, and because life is precisely Will to Power. On no point, however, is the ordinary consciousness of Europeans more unwilling to be corrected than on this matter, people now rave everywhere, even under the guise of science, about coming conditions of society in which "the exploiting character" is to be absent—that sounds to my ears as if they promised to invent a mode of life which should refrain from all organic functions.
"Exploitation" does not belong to a depraved, or imperfect and primitive society -- it belongs to the nature of the living being as a primary organic function, it is a consequence of the intrinsic Will to Power, which is precisely the Will to Life—Granting that as a theory this is a novelty—as a reality it is the fundamental fact of all history -- let us be so far honest towards ourselves! (Beyond Good and Evil, 259)
In my next post in this series, I will continue to address the issue of morality as it relates to atheism and to Christianity, but with a slightly different focus.