Moral Failings of Christianity; The Slippery Portrayal of Pontius Pilate.

The most interesting takes on Christianity are sometimes on Jewish sites.  There you can come across observations of changes in the New Testament portrayal of the character Pontius Pilate.  When you see it, and figure out why it happened, it’s not Christianity’s proudest moment.

Pilate, as we all know, was a ruthless ruler placed by Rome over the Jews.  By all accounts, his assignment was to keep order, collect money from the Jews and send it to Rome.

Some government records of Pilate have survived. Records show a large number of executions, some nearly everyday he ruled.

Secular people who look at this history without its religious back story easily conclude executing a Jesus was likely just another day at the office.  A brief hearing, kill this guy, next case.

Pontius Pilate, however, was treated better and better in Christianity as time moved on.  In Mark, the first Gospel written, he simply executed Jesus. In the next book written, Luke, Pilot says this man is not guilty.

In Matthew, Pilate washes his hands of the Jesus matter and its all the Jews’ fault.  In John, Pilate is so nice to Jesus he leaves it to the Jews to kill him. A century later, Christian writing has Pilate becoming a beloved Christian.

All this was a marketing strategy.  The Romans were potential converts, the Jews could be thrown under the bus.

The late Robert Runie, Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote, “It would have been better for the moral health of Christianity if the blame had stayed with Pilate.”

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How to Decide if Something in the Bible Might be True or Not.

Bart Ehrman, a New Testament scholar, has a methodology for deciding the probability of any part of the NT is fact or fiction.

We have to remember even with Ehrman’s methodology, there is still scant evidence of what happened a couple of thousand of years ago.

Ehrman uses three factors to judge the authenticity of stories in the NT.  First, the earlier the writing was done, the more likely a story reflects something that actually happened.  Again, it is not a guarantee.

Second, does the story come from multiple threads of story telling, or just one?  If the story seemed to come from more than one source, the more likely it is accurate.

Third, and this one requires some sophisticated thinking, does the story provide the propaganda the story tellers wants to leave with the reader or not.  Ironically, if the story does not provide the desired propaganda, the more likely it is to be accurate.

There are a couple of examples where these principles can be applied.  One is the resurrection of Jesus.  It is not included in the earliest account of the Jesus story nor does it have separate independent sources.  And, in enhances the propaganda that Jesus is a God. These make the resurrection unlikely.

Another is are the statements attributed to Jesus proclaiming he is a god. They don’t appear in the earliest Gospels, only in the much later one, John.  Jesus probably did not say this.

How Jesus Became God. Bart Ehrman


























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The Bible and Homosexual Marriage.

Some religious leaders have been hammering on homosexual marriage for decades now.  Once in a while, someone such as this link, challenges the conventional wisdom homosexual marriage is condemned in the Bible.

The references in the Bible of same sex acts actually are about heterosexuals performing ceremonial sexual acts to humiliate some group or to humiliate women.  The link points out the strange logic of seeing the Sodom story as being about an entire city made up of homosexual men. It is a story about heterosexual men wanting to humiliate representatives of a religion.  It had nothing to do with gay marriage.

In the book of Leviticus (18:22) is another reference to men having sex with men.  The purpose of this section was to differentiate the (good) Jews from the (bad) pagans.  Pagans had a ceremonial act where heterosexual men performed some kind of sex act with other heterosexual men.  The story makes no judgment about gays being married.

So, if the Bible does not condemn gay marriage, why do so many religious leaders claim it does?  Why, for example, did the former Pope, Benedict, use some of his annual showcase of the faith, the Christmas message, to hammer on gay marriage?

To put these clergy in the best light, we could conclude it is due to intellectual laziness.  To put them in the not so good light, it is playing to fears and prejudices they know will help bring money to their branch of the faith.

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A Refreshingly Simple Way to Explain the Changes in Christianity.

On this blog, and on the discussion page, various factions of Christianity are discussed, ”fundamentalists”, “evangelicals”, “pentecostals”, “literalists” and other variations.  This will continue, but I came across a simple way to explain  realignment in the faith in a political or applied sense.

It is that the faithful have become polarized.  At one pole are the Bible Christians, at the other the Jesus Christians.

Now, it is clear there are groups with one foot in each pole and there are endless variations in between. But, as public expression and political activism, using the two poles explain Christianity today.

The link uses the term, “Bible Biblical Christians” (BBC), for one pole. This group, what would be generally called literalists, uses the Bible to make sense of moral grounding and sin.

At the other pole is what he calls, “Jesus Biblical Christians” (JBC).  My own interpretation of this group is it separates into a conservative faction, those who invest in death on the cross, to the liberal end, where believers take the overview that Jesus is about a tolerant, not intolerant, faith.  The latter might ask “What would Jesus do?”

The author says the two classifications make ”inerrancy”, “evangelical” and denominationalism outdated. Instead, the Bible and Jesus are about broad interpretations of what was intended by the Bible.  They come head to head when issues like ”religious liberty”, using religion to justify discrimination, come up.

Instead of coming together to fight their common enemy, indifference, they fight each other and help indifference thrive.

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Why All the Doubt in the Bible About the Risen Jesus?

Bart Ehrman points to the lack of discussion among Biblical scholars as to why there was so much doubt expressed in the Bible about the risen Jesus.  The question is, why would there be any doubt at all when someone you knew well was right in front of you?

The doubt is expressed in the Bible many times.  Jesus is right there but the characters in the story do not recognize him.  Someone has to hold his hand to believe it is him.  He spends 40 days with his disciples “proving” he is there.  Forty seconds should have been enough.

An explanation some make is that ancients had visions of Jesus and later doubted whether they really saw him or not.  Ehrman discounts this because research has shown people who have visions believe what they experienced was real.   It is unlikely those who saw visions of Jesus were the ones expressing doubt.

Ehrman believes a more likely explanation. Only a very few in the Bible had these visions.  Likely it was only Peter, Paul and Mary and possible another one or two. None of these expressed doubt.  They told others of their “real” experience.

It was the others who had doubt. Those who wrote the Bible had some reason for including these expressions of skepticism.

The resurrection story of it was repeated orally until it became widely believed as a historical fact. This even though the written version includes considerable doubt.

Bart Ehrman, How Jesus Became God.

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Ancient Parchment With Jesus’ Wife Comment found to be Authentic.

After a couple of years of back and forth, the ancient piece of writing referring to Jesus’ wife has now been verified as being from as late as the 6th century to as early as the 4th century.  The Catholic Church immediately labeled the writing as fake and will probably continue to do so.

There is a steady trickle in ancient writings from the centuries after the “Time of Christ.”  To the extent to which they are accurate, they give some indication of the variety of beliefs the information flowing about the world in those centuries.

The woman anthropologist who came into ownership of this piece of writing says it does not “prove” Jesus had a wife. What is does suggest is that there were people during that period who believed he had a wife.  This is every bit as important as whether he did or did not.

I’ve read that one of the reasons priests are not allowed to marry is that Jesus was not married.  So, if he was not married, why did someone literate enough to write, which as unusual at the time, think he was married?

There remains all manner of controversy about what the Bible’s main character, Jesus, was all about.  While it seems clear he was apocalyptic  about the eminent end of the world, there are those who say this was not his preoccupation.

One thing is sure.  When the unknown authors of the Bible wanted to drive home some point, they portrayed it as coming from Jesus.

Probably there was someone going around at the time quoting what Jesus had said about his wife.

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There are as Many Skeptics About the Bible as There are Believers.

How can it be that even though the Bible is said to be “the word of God”,  there are now as many skeptics as believers?  Surely, if it is the word of God, one cannot be skeptical.

In my thinking, what opens the door for skepticism is semi literalism.  This is a term I made up for people who believe some of the Bible must be taken literally but not all of it.

For example, take two items from the New Testament, one is where it says Jesus died for your sins and the other that long dead corpses walked out of their graves when Jesus died and were seen by many.  Then, you conclude the part about Jesus dying for our sins really happened but the many corpses walking out of their graves did not.  This opens the door for someone to conclude both might be fiction. It will be hard for any rational person to conclude both are true.

Another variable is the role of critical thinking taught in schools today.  Just a few minutes ago a preteen granddaughter told me about her homework assignment for tomorrow.  It is to find two opposing views about global warming and to write a paper comparing them.

I’m guessing eventually this granddaughter, now an enthusiastic Christian, will find herself doing the same kind of analysis of the Bible.  When she and millions of other young people do this, it is inevitable a significant number will recognize the circular reasoning of Christianity.

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Why Did Chick fil a Cross the Road?

There is this old joke, “Q: Why did the chicken cross the road?  A: To get to the other side.”

The same could be said about both the modern Chick fil a and Liberty University.  They both want to get to somewhere different than where they have always been.  If they don’t cross the road, they are stuck on the wrong side.

Chick fil a was the darling of the religious right only a couple of years ago.  It’s President made big contributions to anti gay groups and he was outspoken in his opposition to gay marriage. I can only imagine the comments he received from his staff, “I came to work here because I thought it was a growing business.  Now I see it only wants Southern Baptist customers.”

He has now annouced he will leave politics to politicians and say no more about the issue.  The lessen is that if he wants to be a nation-wide firm, he needs to present his firm as inclusive.

When Jerry Falwell started Liberty University, I’m sure he envisioned a place where Christians came to study his version of Christianity.  Now, his children want it to be a major player in the higher education market.  They cannot accomplish this by catering to only Southern Evangelicals.

Now, Liberty University has hired an openly gay man to develop a high level dance performance.  They hired the best choreographer they could find.

Conservative branches of Christianity could learn from these conservative businessmen.

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What is God Thinking Right Now?

I know Christians are not supposed to “know the mind of God”.  They aften do say they know, however.  Since I’m outside the tent, I think it’s OK for me to speculate.

Now, I’ve not seen evidence there is either a God or god, but I can’t prove there is not either. In the very slim chance there might be one, and the even slimmer chance it is the Judeo Christian one, it’s fun to wonder what his reaction might be to what he observes today.

First, I wonder what he thinks about the other gods people all over the world worship.  Surely he would come to the same conclusion Jews and Christians come to, that those other gods are fake and exist in peoples’ minds only.  But, how does he think these got into their minds?  If this God is all powerful, how could it have slipped out of his control?

There is all this controversy about whether God exists.  God must be frustrated, not with the skeptics like me, but with his own fans.  He must be exasperated they don’t come up with a slam dunk reply to the doubters.

God surely must have some regrets.  The Bible he provided was supposed to be the book that launched a world of believers.  Since it was so vague and because it was written originally in just a few languages, people on earth today disagree on what is says or means.

Does God think this is his fault?  I don’t see myself how it could be anyone else’s fault.


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People In the Pews Lutherans

Protestant denominations are interesting to observe because they reflect the market-driven nature of religion.  When the market changes, collection plates are full where the market is headed and empty where it has been. There were nine million Lutherans in 1965. Now there are seven million.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) was formed several decades ago by merging different factions.  Another branch of Lutherans, Lutheran Church Missouri Syod, (LCMS) is about half the size of ELCA.

The ELCA has lost about 20% of its membership in the last 30 years while LCMS has lost about 1 1/3%.

Two groups have spun off from ELCA and taken about a third of the lost membership.  One of these said it was leaving over the issue of gay pastors.

The two groups who left will have the same struggle with demographics as the current ELCA.  That is, the average age of members is rising and declining rural populations hurt churches.

There is a theory the splits actually are simply a return to the factions that existed before uniting to form the ELCA.  The branches were founded on regional and cultural differences and are returning to their roots.

That cultures drive religions and not the other way around is easy to see among most branches of Christianity.  People make up their minds about how the faith should look and what it is about based on their circumstances outside the church.

There is nothing wrong with this, except the tiresome pronouncement, “There is but one truth, and we know it is.”

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