Conservative Christian: You’ve got bigger fish to fry, Gary. Think on that and know that your destiny is more important. This will end my correspondence with you.
Gary: I hate it when Christians do that. We are having a nice debate regarding some issue related to their supernatural-based belief system when suddenly they find themselves backed into a corner and decide to retreat. But before making their escape, they take one last parting shot: “Oh, by the way. You’re going to burn in hell for all eternity. Think about that while I hightail my ass out of this uncomfortable discussion.”
Here was my response to this Christian gentleman:
Having been in your shoes and having used this expression on unbelievers myself when I was a Christian, I understand that you made this warning with all sincerity and with a lack of malice. However, you should know that to skeptics, this statement is taken as a sign of fear on the part of the theist, whether that theist is a Christian, Muslim, or Mormon. What we hear is, “I can’t counter your argument with good evidence, so I’m going to shake my tom toms, stick needles into voodoo dolls, and pronounce some scary sounding chants of doom upon you to win the argument”.
If your religion were the only exclusivist religion on the planet which threatens eternal gloom and doom for not being a member, I would seriously consider being a member just to hedge my bet. However, your religion is not the only exclusivist religion on the planet, therefore there is no safe bet. You can’t be a devout Christian, a devout Mormon, a devout Muslim, and a devout Hindu, etc., all at the same time. Therefore there is no safe bet. One therefore needs to base his (or her) decision on this issue based on evidence, not based on the fear of being wrong. And the evidence for Christianity is not good. The majority of scholars, including the majority of Roman Catholic scholars who very much believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus, reject the eyewitness/associate of eyewitness authorship of the Gospels. Christians therefore have zero confirmed eyewitness testimony of anyone claiming to have seen a walking/talking (resurrected) corpse.
Thousands of people down through history have claimed to have received an appearance by a dead loved one or friend. Such claims have never been seen as good evidence that the deceased loved one was actually alive again. Believe in the supernatural claims of Christianity, including a scary afterlife for non-believers like myself, based on blind faith if you wish, but don’t claim to do so by good evidence…unless you can provide something new that the rest of conservative/traditional Christianity has not yet presented.
It is my experience that conservative Christians who believe in biblical inerrancy can never be convinced that even the smallest contradiction exists in the Bible. Why? Answer: Their faith is not based on evidence but upon the still, small voice that they believe talks to them in their heart (head). If the still, small voice tells them that no contradictions exist in the Bible, then no contradictions exist in the Bible! Period. The fact of the matter is, any and all contradictions can be explained away if one tries hard enough to harmonize them. Mormons, Muslims, Hindus and others do the very same thing with the apparent contradictions in their holy books.
I believe that a more productive discussion with a conservative Christian would involve the following topics:
1. How do you know that the voice you hear “in your heart” is God and not simply…YOU?
2. The majority of scholars, including the majority of Roman Catholic scholars who very much believe in the supernatural and the bodily resurrection of Jesus, reject the claim that the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses or the associates of eyewitnesses. How strong is the evidence for the supernatural claims of Christianity, in particular, the Resurrection, if the four Gospels are not eyewitness sources? Just because all the apparent discrepancies in a story can be creatively harmonized does not prove that the story itself is historically true.
If the Evidence for the Eyewitness Authorship of the Gospels is as Good as Conservative Christian Apologists Claim, why do Most Roman Catholic Scholars Reject It?
Many conservative Christian apologists will admit that most New Testament scholars today reject the claim that eyewitnesses or the associates of eyewitnesses authored the Gospels. Yet at the same time, these conservative Christian apologists will tell their lay Christian reading public that the evidence for the eyewitness authorship of the Gospels is good; even better than good; it is “strong”. They claim in their books and on their blogs that the lay Christian sitting in the pew on Sunday morning can be confident in the historicity of the bodily resurrection of Jesus because the stories told about this alleged event come from reliable eyewitness sources as recorded by eyewitnesses themselves (or their close associates) in the four Gospels of the Christian New Testament.
How do they explain this disparity?
The following statement by an online conservative Christian blogger sums it up:
“When it comes to the gospels, there are huge double standards. They are often presumed to be guilty until proven innocent. Normal ways of doing history seemingly get thrown out the window. And a big example of this is when it comes to the debate [regarding the] authorship of the gospels. We have very good external evidence that the gospels were written by the names traditionally ascribed to them—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.”
Why would most New Testament scholars have a bias regarding the authorship of the Gospels? Is it because most NT scholars have a bias against Christianity? That seems hardly possible since most New Testament scholars identify as “Christian”. So why? Many conservative Christian apologists allege that even though most NT scholars identify as Christian, a large percentage of them are liberals, and many liberals do not believe in the historicity of the miracle claims in the Gospels and are dubious of the supernatural in general.
Is this true? If so, that would be good evidence that the majority scholarly opinion on the authorship of the Gospels may very well be based on a bias. But there is a problem! It isn’t just liberals and atheist scholars who hold this view. Most Roman Catholic New Testament scholars hold this view! Most Roman Catholic New Testament scholars reject the claim that eyewitnesses or the associates of eyewitnesses wrote the Gospels. Can anyone credibly claim that most Roman Catholic scholars are biased against the supernatural or that they use a double standard for evaluating the historicity of ancient Christian documents???
Read the following statements from probably one of the most respected Roman Catholic NT scholars of our time, Raymond E. Brown:
“Jesus did not write an account of his passion; nor did anyone who had been present write an eyewitness account. Available to us are four differentaccounts written some thirty to seventy years later in the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John, all of which were dependent on tradition that had come down from an intervening generation or generations. That intervening pre-Gospel tradition was not preserved even if at times we may be able to detect the broad lines of its content. When we seek to reconstruct it or, even more adventurously, the actual situation of Jesus himself, we are speculating.”
—The Death of the Messiah, pp. 4-5
“I have already said that I do not think of the evangeliststhemselves as eyewitnesses of the passion; nor do I think that eyewitness memories of Jesus came down to the evangelists without considerable reshaping and development.”
—The Death of the Messiah, p. 14
And here is a statement from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops regarding the authorship of the Gospel of Matthew:
“The questions of authorship, sources, and the time of composition of this gospel [Matthew] have received many answers, none of which can claim more than a greater or lesser degree of probability. The one now favored by the majority of scholars is the following: The ancient tradition that the author was the disciple and apostle of Jesus named Matthew (see Mt 10:3) is untenable because the gospel is based, in large part, on the Gospel according to Mark (almost all the verses of that gospel have been utilized in this), and it is hardly likely that a companion of Jesus would have followed so extensively an account that came from one who admittedly never had such an association rather than rely on his own memories. The attribution of the gospel to the disciple Matthew may have been due to his having been responsible for some of the traditions found in it, but that is far from certain.”
—from the USCCB website
Dear conservative Christian apologists: How can the evidence for the eyewitness authorship of the Gospels be “strong” if so many New Testament scholars who very much believe in the supernatural, miracles, and the bodily resurrection of Jesus reject this claim? How can you honestly continue to make this claim faced with this evidence? The fact is that with few exceptions, the only NT scholars who hold to the eyewitness/associate of eyewitness authorship of the Gospels are evangelicals and fundamentalist Protestants. Now, who seems to be operating from a bias?
You owe your Christian readers the truth. The evidence for the eyewitness authorship of the Gospels is not strong, in fact, it is weak. And if the eyewitness authorship of the Gospels is in doubt, how can anyone claim that the evidence for the historicity of the Gospels’ stories of first century peasants claiming to have seen a walking, talking, broiled fish eating (resurrected) corpse is good?
I’ve noticed something odd recently. Conservative Christian blog owners just don’t seem to want to debate atheists and other skeptics anymore. These Christian blog owners have either stopped allowing comments altogether; they have restricted comments to “members”; or they ignore or block all skeptical comments, even if the skeptical comments are stated in a polite manner. What’s up? I love debating this subject! Where have all the good Christian-atheist debates gone???
When attacking atheism, Christians will say without God, there is no objective right or wrong. With no divine lawgiver, everything is permitted. Rape might be taboo, but there is no way the atheist can say that it is truly evil. If the skeptic knows a bit about the Old Testament, they might be glad you brought up the R-word. “Oh really!? Well, then how can morality be based on a divine lawgiver that condones and allows rape?” Admittedly, there is some funky sounding stuff in the Old Testament. For example:
We read in Judges that the Israelites hatched a scheme to allow the pathetic Benjaminites to essentially rape 400 women at Jabesh-Gilead so their clan’s population wouldn’t die out. (Judges 21:10-24)
And we read in Deuteronomy that God “punishes” rapists by paying a bridal fee while the victim has to marry her rapist! (Deuteronomy 22:28-29)
When was the last time you heard these passages taught in Sunday school? There’s no sense in hiding from these verses, so let’s deal with them head-on.
…God isn’t involved with [these] actions, and nothing is being prescribed. These verses no more endorse rape than Lamentations 4:10 authorizes cannibalism. These are horrible tragedies reported about a nation that forgot God and became like the nations around them. …You can’t just rip these verses out of the Old Testament without an understanding of the cultural context and God’s original intention. This tactic is one of the skeptic’s favorite ploys to make God out to be the bad guy, but after closer inspection, we’ve seen that God isn’t supporting rape at all. Jesus is the ultimate standard for morality. On atheism, there remains no objective standard to even judge what they find immoral in the Bible. And using Old Testament passages out of context as clobber verses is just a red herring.
Another possible explanation for the development of “morality” is that it is a cultural phenomenon. If humans are mammals, most mammals live in packs or herds. Scientists believe that the “herd” developed because it gave a greater chance of survival for the individual members of the herd. But for any herd to function and survive it must have rules of conduct for its members. If a member repeatedly violates the rules of the herd he is expelled or killed. Human societies also developed rules of conduct for their “herd”. These rules of conduct were eventually called “moral behavior” or morality. Societies define what is moral and what is not. We see this in the Bible. At one time in the Jewish culture it was “moral” to stone a bride for not having an intact hymen on her wedding night. Having a non-intact hymen on your wedding night is no longer a stoning offense in Jewish culture. Morality changes based on the time and the circumstances of the “herd”.
There are other verses in the Bible that are more troubling than what you have mentioned. The Hebrew god, Yahweh, allegedly ordered the slaughter of every man, woman, and child in the camp of the Amalekites. Is it ever moral to target children and infants for slaughter?
Conservative Christian Blogger:
…What I’m saying is that it’s possible this one time in history there were morally sufficient reasons to bring judgment on Canaan, and in my post here I’m saying that God regulated the behavior of fallen people and Jesus pointed us to the correct, objective standard and gave man through his Spirit the power to do it. I think you’re quite right to point out that certain things are normally morally wrong, objectively speaking. But that’s a claim well beyond morality being a socio-biological adaptation.
I am not suggesting that rules of conduct (morality) are absolute. They are always subjective, even in the stories of the Bible. In the Bible, it is always immoral to kill children of one’s own herd (Israel) but it is sometimes moral to kill the children of someone else’s herd (Amalekites). Therefore, even the Bible has no absolute moral rule against slaughtering children and infants. In the Bible, the morality of killing children is subjective/conditional. One thing to notice about Jesus is that he never once condemned these acts of genocide, yet he taught his followers to be pacifists; to turn the other cheek. To me this shows that even Jesus saw morality as subjective; moral standards change with time and conditions.
The best evidence against the eyewitness authorship of the Gospels comes not from liberal or atheist scholars but from a highly respected New Testament scholar who:
-was a devout Christian (he is deceased).
-believed in the reality of the supernatural.
-believed in miracles and the miraculous powers of Jesus.
-believed in the Virgin Birth.
-believed in the historicity of the Empty Tomb.
-believed in the literal, bodily, resurrection of Jesus
Yet…agreed with the consensus of New Testament scholars that neither eyewitnesses nor the associates of eyewitnesses wrote the Gospels. His name: New Testament scholar, Raymond E. Brown. If you currently believe in the traditional apostolic authorship of the Gospels you must read this two volume work by Brown. You will see that he has no bias. He calls the evidence as he sees it. Sometimes the evidence favors the traditional Christian argument (the Empty Tomb), sometimes the evidence does not (the non-eyewitness authorship of the Gospels). If this issue matters to you, you owe it to yourself to read this masterpiece of New Testament scholarship (two volumes).