Critical Review of Bart Ehrman.

The link is a review of Bart Ehrman’s most recent book, How Jesus Became God.  The reviewer, a New Testament scholar like Ehrman, correctly summarizes Ehrman’s case.  That is Jesus, a relatively unimportant itinerate Jewish preacher, became a god after his death.  It happened when two or three of his fans reported they saw him, possibly in visions or dreams.

The reviewer makes the accusation several times the Ehrman’s approach to this history of Jesus is polemic.  That is, it is not scholarly in the traditional sense but argumentative and challenging.

No one knows for certain the events around Jesus.  Take Erhman’s claim that Roman Jews knew of other gods.  That is reported in the Ten Commandments.  But, the reviewer’s “fact” is Roman Jews were not allowed to worship but one god.  He concludes Roman Jews could not consider the existence of any other god.

Then there is Ehrman’s historical evidence it is very unlikely the body of Jesus was turned over to his followers. This was based on non Biblical documents.  The reviewer brings up Jewish law to argue against Ehrman.  That, even though Jews were not in charge, Romans were.

To me, the reviewer is every bit as polemic as Ehrman–a case of the pot calling the kettle black.  In fact, everyone who studies the Bible or talks about it, believer or not, is polemic.

There is no way to talk about tiny bits of information dripping with emotion and political overtones without being at least a bit polemic.

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Countries That Require a Religion for Public Officeholders.

I had always thought the majority of countries in the world required office holders to be of some particular religion.  It turns out only 15%.

The majority of these are Muslim countries, seventeen of them.  There are two that require Christianity, Andorra and Lebanon.  England requires its Royalty to defend the faith, the Queen/King being head of the Church.  Interestingly, the country where the U. S. is embroiled in religious wars, Iraq, has no religious requirement for office holders.

To some politicians, religion is so much as part of their idealism the concepts of faith and religion are one and the same.  They do not understand the separation of church and state.  Rick Perry of Texas seems like one of these.

According to a commenter, the Republic of Texas Constitution says in Section 4, Religious Tests…No religious test shall ever be required of office holders  provided he acknowledges the existence of a Supreme Being.

I would wonder how there can be no religious test required when there, obviously, is a religious requirement.  That is especially curious when the term, Supreme Being, begins with capital letters meaning it has a name.

At this time, everyone would agree a candidate for President must be a declared Christian to be elected.  It seems to me Christianity is worn on the sleeve more by leaders when our country is in a war than when at peace.

I think we will have a woman President soon.  An atheist President is just too much for voters to swallow.

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The Computer Squeezes the Church in Two Ways.

The link reviews an article written many years ago, long before the web was carried around in a phone.  We all know what has happened, technology has taken away leisure time, not made more of it.

The priest who wrote the link was surprisingly accurate when he made the observation that organized religion is not something so important people make time for no matter what.  Instead, it is dependent on people having leisure time available.

He also makes the observation I have made here many times–that the computer is a competitive source of information to the Church.  He wrote the computer has become the Church itself in this sense.

I have to confess I, along with my economist colleages, was unimpressed in the early days of the “computer relvolution.”  It seemed to me to be just another tool, like the air hammer that breaks up concrete and the automatic trasmission on cars.  Both changed the way things were done, but not what was done.

I now see that it has had a far reaching effect on how people think.  It has changed how people spend their time both when working and when not working.  It has giving both the wealthy/powerful and the lowly bottom-of-the-rung certain weapons to use against each other.

For the “religious class”, the set of people who live off the time and donations of the public, all this is a lose-lose. There is less time for church and less reverence for what it is.

Please, the Priest asks, spend more time with me.

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Is This the New and Improved Catholic Church?

My first experience in graduate school was studying a now mostly lost branch of economics called “Institutional Economics.”  It was heavily influenced by both sociology and political science.

It studied the actual goal of institutions versus their stated goal.  I wonder there if there is today a academic study of the difference between firms ”mission statements” and their actual goals as seen by documented actions.

If there was a generalization one could make about large organizations/institutions it would be something like this.  Most large institutions need to say they are focusing on one thing even though they are focusing on something else.  For example, a corporation’s mission statement may say, “… our mission is to serve the customer,” or “our mission is to sell a safe product.”  Corporation’s mostly do not focus on these issues.

It’s fun reading up on each new appointee to high levels in the Catholic Church as that institution struggles to change under the new Pope.   The appointees are almost uniformly from a different faction within the institution than were those of the last two Popes.  Yet, there are the proforma statements that church theology has not changed–everything is just as it was.

The link discusses the appointment of Rainer Maria Woelk to head Cologne Archdiocese, the wealthiest and most influential Diocese in Germany.  Germany is the wealthiest country in Europe.

He is the kind of Cardinal who seems ready make more friendly toward gays.  He works on this while maintaining the Church’s position has not changed.

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Why Does the Bible Advise the Faithful to Push the Word onto Others?

I think there is an explanation as to why the ancients who wrote the Bible said believers should be pushy with others about spreading the faith.  They, obviously, had some success doing this.   I don’t see much success today spreading the word by bringing it up whenever there is an opening.

I think it was easier back then because there was not much competition.  If the system of communication was story tellers, itinerate preachers, written information read by the few literate people and local gossip it was not like today.

I don’t keep track of such things, but I’ve read the number of media exposures the average person in the Western world encounters just keep going up.  It must be up to a few hundred a day.

This means religion has a hard time getting attention.  Then there is the sophistication of the public itself.  It seems like there is more suspicion to messages than there were years ago.

I think it would good for the faith to wise up about the difference between circumstances that existed when the Bible was written and now.  Both the message and the way it is delivered needs to change.

Some evangelists like Joel Osteen seems to have mastered the new world.  It’s understandable many do not like him, but maybe he is the future of the faith.

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Different Biblical Authors With Different Goals in Mind.

People like me read the Bible with this assumption in mind:  Its authors aimed at a specific audience and had a specific objective they wanted to achieve.

This is illustrated in the portrayal of Jesus on the way to the cross in the Books called Mark and Luke.  Both authors are unknown.  The Book of Luke was written three or four decades after that called Mark.  Neither author was present at the event they describe.

Mark’s Jesus is in agony, miserable.  He is marched past jeering and taunting crowds.  No one supports him.  When he finally reacts to all of this, it is with a question to God, “Why have you forsaken me?”

The Luke Jesus is a cool dude who is in control.  Matters have been wrapped up and he tells those around him this is all according to plan.  There is no taunting or calling out to question God.

Scholar Bart Ehrman  explains each author had a different audience that needed to hear a different story.  Perhaps,  and he admits this is pure speculation, each audience was in despair at their circumstances and in need of a hopeful message.

It could have been that Mark’s audience knew Jesus needed to suffer first in order to receive a reward later, just as they did.  Luke’s audience, on the other hand, needed to know all was forgiven and reward awaited.

Since there was no record of anyone present to report what actually happened, each writer was free to develop his own kind of story.

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Nonbelievers, What Would You “Pray” at the Beginning of a Public Meeting?

The U. S. Supreme Court has ruled prayers can be held prior to a public meeting if the opportunity is passed around.  This means atheists and others occasionally will speak as well.  Since they have no one to pray to, they will say something else. But, what?

I suppose a hundred nonbelievers would have a hundred different ideas. Some would use the opportunity to present themselves as likeable people.  I know several who feel being likeable is a major goal. The second link below discusses the high level of dislike for atheists.

If I were to “pray”, I would not stress ”likeability”.  I would explain why we do not share the faith.

If towns like Greece, NY, are required by the Supreme Court decision to offer a speaking opportunity to atheists, say, once a month, twelve different topics could be presented every year.  If 5,000 towns/cities to offer this opportunity, that would be 60,000 little atheist sermons a year.  At the moment there are zero.

I’m sure there would be guidelines adopted for the prayers that they not be political.  That would be hard in enforce with preachers claiming the right to be political.  It seems like the person “praying” could say anything they wanted to say.

There is the possibility this requirement to share the “prayer” opportunity could have several unintended consequences.  Well know local folks might out themselves as atheists.

The more I think about it, the more I look forward to the new  “prayers”.

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Was the Writing Used by Biblical Authors, the “Word of God?”

A million times a day someone says the Bible is the word of God.  It said to be sacred writing.  Some go further and say it is a historical record.   The question is, did the writers think of each other’s writing as the sacrosanct word of God the way we are taught to treat the Bible?

The answer is they did not.  Skepticism of the Bible’s content started at the very time it was written.

It is widely agreed authors of Matthew, Mark and Luke had in front of them writings now lost to time.  One believed to be used by all is called by the letter “Q”.  Instead to referring for all time to “Q” as the “word of God, Biblical authors changed it to suit themselves.

But, it was not only “Q” they changed to suit themselves, it was also the Gospels themselves.  It is widely agreed Mark was the first Gospel written and that Luke and Matthew had copies of Mark when they wrote their own gospels.

The later writers, Matthew and Luke, did not treat Mark as sacrosanct.  Luke went to far as to say he was writing his own version of things so his reader, Theophilus, would learn the truth.  In other words, Luke has the book of Mark in front of him and did not think it reflected the truth (Luke 1:1-4).

Matthew and Luke also wrote accounts of Jesus’ life that differed from that of Mark.  They would not have done that had they believed Mark’s writing to be the “word of God.”

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The Christian Right’s Goal is to Have Government Meddle in Our Private Lives.

At least three states have had legislation introduced which will mean law enforcement will play some role in investigating miscarriages.  There are other ways the Christian right wants to get government into our private lives.

In North Dakota, the November ballot will include a measure which must have Christian right members rubbing their hands together in anticipation.  Their motives can be see by the open ended nature of the measure:

“The inalienable right to life of every human being at any stage of development must be recognized and protected.”

A hospital Chaplin recently pointed to the problem of people who have written end-of-life instructions for their own medical care.  If the person writes he/she does not want any extraordinary efforts to prolong life after their is little or no hope and further life will include more misery than the person wants to endure, how will a doctor look the above measure?  The measure says human life , ….at any stage of development must be recognized and protected.

Whenever I bring up real world complications that go with defining a fertilized egg as a full human being, commenters blow off these concerns with, “it won’t be a problem.”  Yet, bills are introduced and public statements are made that show advocates intend to make these issues real problems.

The right of a person to direct a doctor to “pull the plug” has always been a worrisome thing to right-to-lifers.  If an old person has power over his/her body, it will be applied to pregnant women as well.


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500th Anniversary of the Protestant Referendum.

There are articles making the rounds on the web these days discussing this anniversary.  Much of the gazillions of work published about this event centered on arguments in theology and personalities.  Not so much have been published about how people in the streets reacted.

Apparently, there was much looting and destruction, especially of religious icons.  There is even a lot of art depicting the destruction of art.  Apparently, there was a set of people gleefully pillaging Catholic art. Some today say straight out what went on was sadly similar to the destruction of Buddhist icon by nasty branches of Islam.  The period of the Referendum was apparently one of the largest destruction of art in history.

There has been this argument going on since I don’t know when about whether humans are any better at respecting each other now than in the past.  That is to ask, has there been any collective advancement in peoples understanding of appropriate behavior toward others, including religion.

Certainly, we have not, so far as I know, destroyed religious icons in this way in the Western world since that time 500 years ago.  It is still being done elsewhere, however.

We all know religious passions are powerful forces.  One can only hope we will someday see the last of their use to destroy people and their artistic expressions.

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