Probability and the Bible.

Richard Carrier does a novel thing when he discusses the difficulties of knowing who lived and what they did in ancient times. There is a lot of information about some things and virtually none about others.

When it comes to Jesus, there is virtually nothing. Carrier explains why, in these circumstances where there is little or no written material, odds are small we can know much about people in events.

Almost every scrap of information we have about Jesus of Nazareth comes from the Bible. There is information about other things going on at the time so that can be of help.

The Bible portrays Jesus in different ways. He seems like an entirely different person from one writer to the next. In one version of the cross story, he is distraught. In another he is cool, calm and collected.

Then, there is his origin as a god. He is portrayed as being a god before he was born, when he was born and after he came back to life.

Let’s assume there were ten versions of Jesus. This would make the odds of picking the real one at one in ten. Nine out of ten times you would have picked a Jesus that never existed.

Then, there were the things he said and did. If the odds of picking the correct Jesus are only one in ten, what are the odds someone might know what he actually said? The odds of being wrong skyrocket.

Statistically, there is little chance of being correct, although it’s not impossible.

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I Wish There Were Agreement on What We Mean by Evidence.

What constitutes evidence in religion? I’ve been reading two  scholars, Bart Ehrman and Richard Carrier. Carrier spoke at our  Zeteticon conference last week.

Ehrman’s field is the New Testament. He reads original languages and has in his head endless threads of religious thought. Carrier’s field in ancient history. He also reads ancient languages and carries in his head the details of history centuries ago.

They cross over into each other’s fields. Ehrman looks into the field of ancient history to find the setting for what became the Bible. Carrier studies the historical settings but has become interested in the Bible.  They disagree on whether we can know there was a human historical Jesus.

Ehrman uses material from the Bible to make a passionate case there was a human Jesus. He says it is possible to parse the Bible and find entirely separate threads of oral history, later written down, referring to a Jesus. He considers this good evidence.

Carrier calls this bad historical research. In his field of ancient history, researchers use surviving written material, confirm the authorship, then match these against physical evidence like archeological digs, coins and stone inscriptions. He gives an example of the pre Jesus, Alexander the Great, which has all of these kinds of evidence.

Carrier says there is nothing a scholar in ancient history can call evidence of a Jesus. There are no first person accounts by known writers or artifacts.

There could have been a Jesus, he says, but there is no evidence that meets the standards of scholarship in ancient history.

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The Majority of Adults are Not Married and Moving Downtown.

The future of any religion depends, not on whether it is or is not the “truth”, but whether it is perceived as the truth. How religion happens to be perceived by broad swaths of the population at any moment in time depends, in turn, on the culture of that moment.

Demographic trends help to drive some parts of the culture. In the past, if a population was largely rural instead of urban, it would be more religious. Suburban areas tend to be more church going than inner cities.

We are now entering a time when two trends are taking place with which we have had little experience. One is a generation raised in the suburbs who, as adults, is moving to the center of cities. The second is that this generation also is not marrying nearly as frequently. It seems to me neither of these trends bodes well for churches.

That churches are bumping into one another in a suburban land grab is well know. We can be certain most suburbs will not disappear, but whether they will grow enough to support all their churches remains unknown.

I read an article today by a Christian who scolded church planters for racing to the suburbs and ignoring the center of cities. Yet, I don’t see the young and retired who live in city centers as material for new churches.

I’ve wondered how churches, especially conservative ones, react to unmarried couples living together. This is a population churches need today.

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Really, Religious Instruction to Young People Should Include This.

A bit more on euhemerism.

I would guess no Christian training of youth includes facts about how and why myths are spread. Yet, for people to apply critical thinking they should be aware, and skeptical, of what is being sold to them.

King Arthur, probably did not exist. He was created from bits of fact and myth into a unified character that served the purpose of uniting British people. The myth of King Arthur was so successful he is commonly regarded as having been a real in-the-flesh person.

The Luddite movement and all that it stood for was based on the ideology of a heroic figure named Ned Ludd. What he did and said was of relatively recent history. His anti technology activism was supposed to have taken place about 1779 when there were newspapers, printing presses and credentialed historians. But, there never was a Ned Ludd.

We all know the name, Haile Selassie. This Ethiopian emperor was a Christian died recently, 1974. As we speak, he is the god of a faith called Rastafarianism with nearly a million followers. It all started while he was still alive and he objected to being referred to as a deity. He pleaded with those who started this religion to stop. Sallie’s followers believe he was the messiah prophesized in the Old Testament.

These examples show that when a society needs a certain kind of hero, one is manufactured. They do not prove there was never a Jesus Christ. They show figures like him can be created.

They should, however, be part of Christian religious instruction so each person can make up his/her own mind.

One the Historicity of Jesus; Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt. Richard Carrier, Sheffied Phoenix Press, 2014.

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The Bible as History in Disguise.

This weekend at the Zeteticon conference I tried to master the word, euhemerism.

Euhemerism, as defined by Wikipedia, is in part, “..mythological characters as historical personages but which were shaped, exaggerated or altered by retelling and traditional mores.”

Euhemerism was practiced regularly in the ancient world. The idea was to invent a mythological character then place the character in a historical context by using names of leaders and places recorded in other documents.

One example of this was the story of Moses and the Exodus. In the story, there is a city the Jews visited. The problem with the city is that archeologists have dated its beginning at a time long after the alleged time of Moses.  That is, the story teller who invented the exodus was someone who lived long after that time.

What of euhemerism and the history of Jesus? If there was a historical Jesus, and, that figure was an obscure preacher who ended up killed by the Romans because others said he was a king, we have to be amused at the notion he was of the linage of David. The linage of David, of course, would have been inserted into he myth of a holy man because there is record of a David.

Euhemerism was named for its founder, Euthermeras, who used the argument to discredit pagan gods. He said mythology was history in disguise.

It was used later by the unknown Biblical writers to disguise history.

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The Contest Ahead is Between Islam and Atheism.

I’m often chastised here because I write about the Christian religion and not about Islam. I do this because the Christian religion is the one I encounter. Parts of it try continually to put its beliefs into government.

There are two branches within the sphere of religious discussion that are growing. The two are Islam and no religion. No religion is growing at a more rapid rate than Islam.

The Christian religion is not really growing and many parts of it are in decline. I learned from a presenter here at the Zeteticon conference that even in places where Christianity is bragging about growth, China, there really is little or no growth. This woman telling about this had been a Christian missionary in China.

Christianity is not a good offset to militant Islam. That is because so many parts of Christianity in the U. S., including the Catholic branch, are setting the table for Islam. They do this by putting religion into government.

If Islam were to continue growing and become the majority, it could simple flip the religion-in-government switch and making the pledge, abortion, discrimination and government advertising of a religion Muslin instead of its current Christian.

The best defense against growth of Islamic influence around the world is promotion of atheism, not Christianity.  Promoting critical thinking of atheism will offset the enthusiasm for Islam more than simply talking up some new god.

In the end, Christians are more likely to get a fair shake from an atheist government than from a Muslim one.

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The Christian Right and Declines in Denominations.

Cause and effect in social change is not easy to establish. There are  many changes going on at any moment. Statistical methods help narrow the likely causes, but sometimes several explanations for some change remain.

The link defends conservative branches of Christianity by pointing out what is well known. That is, the largest declines have occurred in the liberal denominations. Yet, to assume conservative branches have no affect on liberal branches may not be correct either.

First, it should be pointed out that the Southern Baptist Convention has seen annual declines of ten per cent per year. These declines are not as large as they are in some liberal branches, but it is not good news for conservative Christianity either.

Second, much of the public’s imagine of religion comes from religious people who get in the news. Those who get in the news most are representatives of conservative branches of the faith. These include the Pope, Pat Robertson, the Westbrough Baptist Church and a few others.

Nearly all liberal churches have some theological concepts in common with conservative churches. It seems like the difficulty of making sense of these characteristics they have in common must have at least some affect of liberal church membership.

For example, the liberal United Church of Christ has in it statements of beliefs that there is sin and that Jesus was crucified and came back to life just as does the Southern Baptist Convention. I think magical thinking affects adversely all parts of the faith.

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No Magic Allowed, Unless Jesus Did It.

I’ve know lots of people in the news business, both print and TV. They have told me you cannot make up news stories that are as strange as the stuff that actually happens.

Cities and town across the U. S., maybe around the world, have laws that were passed during some previous time when conventional wisdom was different. In recent decades, for example, cities took off their books ordinances against sodomy.

Most interesting are those which reflect religion. In the town of Port Royal, VA., someone showed up for one day to read tarot cards. Some citizens said reading tarot cards is against the law in Port Royal.

It turned out they were correct. There was a law against practicing “magic arts”. It mentioned practices of “gypsies” and others who read palms and, I suppose, crystal balls.

The City Council members were embarrassed their town had such an ordinance and scheduled its repeal at an upcoming meeting. The town’s Christians flew into action.

Among the comments from citizens was that Port Royal is a city with a “Judeo-Christian tradition.”  Another pointed out that reading tarot cards in giving themselves the power of God.

One of the city council members tried to find a middle ground by leaving the ordinance but just taking out the word “gypsies”.

The irony is every Sunday, there are Sunday school teachers talking of rituals like prayer that save people in a mystical afterlife. They tell of Jesus walking on water.

Biblical magic is good, tarot cards not.–106457.html#continue

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What is the Oddest Ancient Christian Myth? Women Cannot Hold Clergy Positions In the Church.

I’m always surprised when I learn of ways women are excluded from positions in some branches of Christianity. Sometimes it is women who support this. Most often it is men. In either case, I wonder, “What is wrong with you?”

Prior to Christianity, there were societies where, we have come to learn, women held  positions of highest authority. Thus, it is not indigenous to humans, it is not “natural”, that men hold the positions of power.

Whenever I bring this up here, some men will mention women they know, especially their wives, who like the status quo where women are consider “not able”. Once in a while a woman will agree.

I have a proposal. Why not have women exclusively decide whether or not they can be ministers, priests and popes? The Catholic Magisterium could simple rule it heard from God women should be asked this question.

The reason this does not happen is that men hang onto the positions that make decisions about women. They do this in church hierarchy, abortion and birth control.

This is not just a liberal, women’s liberation, argument. It is about the survival of the faith. Both men and women are needed at the table to come up with the best decisions. Excluding half of the church means half of the talent is left unused.

Perhaps making use of women’s talents was not so important when membership and revenue were flowing in. Now that things have changed, it’s time to wake up.

This weekend, Zeteticon, in Fargo.

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The New Gender: None

It’s amazing how our ways of thinking about things seemed so clear at one point and then get turned on their ear at another point. I would guess there are millions of people who once thought homosexuality was a taboo at one point but now think differently.

The transgender world is another one. My own experience with it started when I was on a national gay rights Board of Directors. Trans people began to come to local meetings. It caused much disruption of things–people did not know what to do.

As time went on, trans people were embraced by the organization and they are included in its mission.  There is at least one trans rights organization.

But, change in the “order” of things has not stopped. Now, the view of gender itself is changing. There are High School students who just do not identify others as being in one gender or another. Some are just both, or, sometimes one and sometimes the other.

I was surprised to read about the attitude toward gender by the highest paid female executive in the world, Martine Rothblatt.  She earned $38 million last year.,

She does not like to hold herself up as a model for other women, she says, because she spend half her life as a man. She says it’s simply not necessary to decide whether individuals are male or female.

It’s hard to understand, but really, there is no need to. We can accept people as they are and that’s that.

P.S. Zeteticon, the conference this weekend in Fargo:

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