"Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly." – G. K. Chesterton

Archive for the ‘The Bible’ Category

Magnificat

While I was in grad school, before I became a Christian, I read Julian May’s novel Magnificat.  While I liked the novel, I didn’t have the slightest idea what the title meant.  This is a perfect demonstration of my intellectual situation during that period of my life.  I had already received one degree from a top-rated academic institution and was on my way to earning another.  On paper, by secular standards, my education looked excellent.  At the same time, I knew virtually nothing about most of the major texts that had shaped the civilization in which I lived, or about theology, philosophy, or numerous other topics of supreme importance.  This is what our educational system does to young minds.

But onwards to the topic of the post.  The Magnificat is a poem from the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke.  It is the words attributed to the Blessed Virgin Mary after she visits hers kinswoman Elizabeth:

The Magnificat in English

While there are those like my grad school self who have never heard of it, there are also many people who may have the opposite problem.  Any text that one reads and hears too many times can become too familiar, until one loses sight of its meaning and power.  After we’ve encountered this particular prayer hundreds of times, we may lose sight of its revolutionary character.

Let us try to put ourselves back into the time and place where this passage originated.  Mary was peasant woman in a small village in an insignificant province at the fringes of the Roman Empire.  Neither she nor any of her family or friends had any power.  They were constantly pushed around.  A whim of the Emperor, such as a desire to take a census, could uproot them and force them to travel great distances at considerable inconvenience.

Faced with this situation, Mary was neither despairing, nor angry, for bitter.  Instead she made a triumphant statement of confidence.  God is watching over each of us, God knows our sufferings and needs, God will protect us always.  Chesterton once said that it is not meek to say that the meek shall inherit the earth.  Similarly it is not humble to insist that kings will be toppled from their thrones and the humble will be exalted.

In our day and age, when questions of power structures and authority swirl around us in countless forms, we need the simple and powerful faith expressed in the Magnificat more than ever.

 

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Thoughts for the day

After being absent from the blog for nearly two years, I’ve returned with four posts about the recent gang rape charges at UVA published by Rolling Stone, which turned out to be a hoax.  Okay, that’s a bit odd.  Why do I care so much about this story?

Every forum thread and comment section on the internet devoted to this topic has overflowed with comments from UVA students and alumni.  For the record, I am neither a student nor an alumnus.  I did, however, live near Charlottesville for seven years, and had many friends among the students and faculty at the school.  In that sense, it makes me particularly angry that Rolling Stone picked UVA as the target of its slander.  If they’d instead made up a fictional rape case set at, say, the University of Alabama, it would be just as much a moral outrage, but it wouldn’t be so personal for me.

That said, it is a moral outrage.  Accusing someone of rape, when you know that person didn’t commit rape, is a terrible thing to do.  The ninth Commandments is “Thou shall not bear false witness”.  Many translations give it as “Thou shall not lie”, but the original Hebrew makes it clear and specific: we should not falsely accuse others of crimes.  For Jews and Christians, this has been a part of the basic moral order for thousands of years.  Of course, the left-wingers who run publications like Rolling Stone and most major universities in this country proudly reject our Judeo-Christian heritage, so it shouldn’t be too surprising when they bear false witness shamelessly.

Well, whatever being wrote the Ten Commandments was right.  It is wrong to falsely accuse anyone of any crime.  It is wrong for the same reason that rape is wrong.  Rape harms other people.  So does a false accusation.  Rape is selfish.  So is a false accusation.  Rape treats other people as worthless.  So does a false accusation.  This should be obviously and clear to all thinking people.

Regrettably, many on the left don’t seem to see it that way.  Examples have multipled, but here are two much-quoted examples.  A UVA student wrote an essay in Politico saying, “to let fact checking define the narrative would be a huge mistake.”  Meanwhile over at The New Republic, Rebecca Traister tells us this:

The dismantling of Erdely’s storyboth by anti-feminist agonistes and by those genuinely dismayed by possible journalistic errorwould mean that Jackie’s story of being beaten and raped by seven fraternity brothers will be dismissed, and that the reading public will be permitted to slip back into the comforting conviction that stories like Jackie’s aren’t real, that rapes like that don’t happen, that our system works, and that, of course, bitches lie.  What we will all be allowed to happily forget is that there are plenty of real stories of rape: of violent rape, frat house rape, gang rape, date rape; that most rape accusers do not lie and that in fact it’s quite likely, statistically, that Jackie herself did not lie.

Actually, to allow fact-checking to define the narrative is exactly the right thing to do.  Facts matter.  Truth matters.  Separating true from false matters.

As for Traister’s statement, it’s quite telling.  Supposedly “the reading public”, which presumably doesn’t include Traister herself, has a comforting conviction that rape isn’t real and never happens.  In reality, no one believes this.  Everyone knows that rape is a real problem and does happen.  Traister is railing against a non-existent position.

Fortunately there are a few folks still standing up for reason.  I highly recommend reading all of the following:

Emily Yoffe says that The Putative Epidemic of Campus Rape is Pushing Colleges to Adopt Policies Unfair to Men.

Judith Levine takes to task the absurd feminist responses to the whole story: “Feminism Can Handle the Truth.”

And Mollie Hemingway points out that Sabrina Rubin Erdely has a long history of writing utterly absurd stories and passing them off as true.  Why haven’t her lies been exposed before?

Jesus’s Deadbeat Wife

One advantage to my slow posting is that often a story has completely run its course by the time I get around to commenting on it. Last month a tiny fragment of an ancient Coptic manuscript showed up that included a reference to “the wife of Jesus”. The manupscript supposedly dated from the third century A.D., which would obviously make it useless as far as real, historical evidence was concerned. That didn’t stop the mainstream media from going into a tizzy, playing up the the supposed “fact” that Jesus had a wife and discussing how this new revelation would rock the foundations of Christianity.

Within a few days, more sober-minded scholars had taken a look at the fragment. It was a fraud. Some forger had copied a few lines from the Gospel of Thomas and inserted the phrase “the wife of Jesus” in the middle. There were also errors in grammar and continuity. Here’s an article that tells the whole story.

Of course this sort of hoax is not new to those who study the Bible and archaeology. Less than two years ago, we were treated to the case of the lead codices from Jordan.  Before that there was the “Jesus family tomb”, the supposed ossuary of James, Secret Mark, and many others.  Plainly anyone should be on their guard against fakes, and a supposedly major find relating to the life of Jesus should always be treated with skepticism.  Thre question then becomes: why don’t the media and the liberal scholars do that?  After all, we’re told time after time that the non-religious and mildly religious are much more skeptical than the truly religious.  We’re informed over and over again that true believers fall for all kinds of bunkum, while the other group does not.  Why, then, is it the media and the secular academic complex that got suckered by this fragment?  Why indeed?

Chesterton on the Copycat Hypothesis

Now it is this simple truth which, like many others, is too simple for our
scientists to see. This is where they go wrong, not only about true
religion, but about false religions too; so that their account of
mythology is more mythical than the myth itself. I do not confine myself
to saying that they are quite incorrect when they state (for instance)
that Christ was a legend of dying and reviving vegetation, like Adonis or
Persephone. I say that even if Adonis was a god of vegetation, they have
got the whole notion of him wrong. Nobody, to begin with, is sufficiently
interested in decaying vegetables, as such, to make any particular mystery
or disguise about them; and certainly not enough to disguise them under
the image of a very handsome young man, which is a vastly more interesting
thing. If Adonis was connected with the fall of leaves in autumn and the
return of flowers in spring, the process of thought was quite different.
It is a process of thought which springs up spontaneously in all children
and young artists; it springs up spontaneously in all healthy societies.
It is very difficult to explain in a diseased society.

The brain of man is subject to short and strange snatches of sleep. A
cloud seals the city of reason or rests upon the sea of imagination; a
dream that darkens as much, whether it is a nightmare of atheism or a
daydream of idolatry. And just as we have all sprung from sleep with a
start and found ourselves saying some sentence that has no meaning, save
in the mad tongues of the midnight; so the human mind starts from its
trances of stupidity with some complete phrase upon its lips; a complete
phrase which is a complete folly. Unfortunately it is not like the dream
sentence, generally forgotten in the putting on of boots or the putting in
of breakfast. This senseless aphorism, invented when man’s mind was
asleep, still hangs on his tongue and entangles all his relations to
rational and daylight things. All our controversies are confused by
certain kinds of phrases which are not merely untrue, but were always
unmeaning; which are not merely inapplicable, but were always
intrinsically useless. We recognise them wherever a man talks of “the
survival of the fittest,” meaning only the survival of the survivors; or
wherever a man says that the rich “have a stake in the country,” as if the
poor could not suffer from misgovernment or military defeat; or where a
man talks about “going on towards Progress,” which only means going on
towards going on; or when a man talks about “government by the wise few,”
as if they could be picked out by their pantaloons. “The wise few” must
mean either the few whom the foolish think wise or the very foolish who
think themselves wise.

There is one piece of nonsense that modern people still find themselves
saying, even after they are more or less awake, by which I am particularly
irritated. It arose in the popularised science of the nineteenth century,
especially in connection with the study of myths and religions. The
fragment of gibberish to which I refer generally takes the form of saying
“This god or hero really represents the sun.” Or “Apollo killing the
Python MEANS that the summer drives out the winter.” Or “The King dying in
a western battle is a SYMBOL of the sun setting in the west.” Now I
should really have thought that even the skeptical professors, whose
skulls are as shallow as frying-pans, might have reflected that human
beings never think or feel like this. Consider what is involved in this
supposition. It presumes that primitive man went out for a walk and saw
with great interest a big burning spot on the sky. He then said to
primitive woman, “My dear, we had better keep this quiet. We mustn’t let
it get about. The children and the slaves are so very sharp. They might
discover the sun any day, unless we are very careful. So we won’t call
it ‘the sun,’ but I will draw a picture of a man killing a snake; and
whenever I do that you will know what I mean. The sun doesn’t look at all
like a man killing a snake; so nobody can possibly know. It will be a
little secret between us; and while the slaves and the children fancy I am
quite excited with a grand tale of a writhing dragon and a wrestling
demigod, I shall really MEAN this delicious little discovery, that there
is a round yellow disc up in the air.” One does not need to know much
mythology to know that this is a myth. It is commonly called the Solar
Myth.

Quite plainly, of course, the case was just the other way. The god was
never a symbol or hieroglyph representing the sun. The sun was a
hieroglyph representing the god. Primitive man (with whom my friend
Dombey is no doubt well acquainted) went out with his head full of gods
and heroes, because that is the chief use of having a head. Then he saw
the sun in some glorious crisis of the dominance of noon on the distress
of nightfall, and he said, “That is how the face of the god would shine
when he had slain the dragon,” or “That is how the whole world would bleed
to westward, if the god were slain at last.”

No human being was ever really so unnatural as to worship Nature. No man,
however indulgent (as I am) to corpulency, ever worshipped a man as round
as the sun or a woman as round as the moon. No man, however attracted to
an artistic attenuation, ever really believed that the Dryad was as lean
and stiff as the tree. We human beings have never worshipped Nature; and
indeed, the reason is very simple. It is that all human beings are
superhuman beings. We have printed our own image upon Nature, as God has
printed His image upon us. We have told the enormous sun to stand still;
we have fixed him on our shields, caring no more for a star than for a
starfish. And when there were powers of Nature we could not for the time
control, we have conceived great beings in human shape controlling them.
Jupiter does not mean thunder. Thunder means the march and victory of
Jupiter. Neptune does not mean the sea; the sea is his, and he made it.
In other words, what the savage really said about the sea was, “Only my
fetish Mumbo could raise such mountains out of mere water.” What the
savage really said about the sun was, “Only my great great-grandfather
Jumbo could deserve such a blazing crown.”

About all these myths my own position is utterly and even sadly simple.
I say you cannot really understand any myths till you have found that one
of them is not a myth. Turnip ghosts mean nothing if there are no real
ghosts. Forged bank-notes mean nothing if there are no real bank-notes.
Heathen gods mean nothing, and must always mean nothing, to those of us
that deny the Christian God. When once a god is admitted, even a false
god, the Cosmos begins to know its place: which is the second place. When
once it is the real God the Cosmos falls down before Him, offering flowers
in spring as flames in winter. “My love is like a red, red rose” does not
mean that the poet is praising roses under the allegory of a young lady.
“My love is an arbutus” does not mean that the author was a botanist so
pleased with a particular arbutus tree that he said he loved it. “Who art
the moon and regent of my sky” does not mean that Juliet invented Romeo to
account for the roundness of the moon. “Christ is the Sun of Easter” does
not mean that the worshipper is praising the sun under the emblem of
Christ. Goddess or god can clothe themselves with the spring or summer;
but the body is more than raiment. Religion takes almost disdainfully the
dress of Nature; and indeed Christianity has done as well with the snows
of Christmas as with the snow-drops of spring. And when I look across
the sun-struck fields, I know in my inmost bones that my joy is not solely
in the spring, for spring alone, being always returning, would be always
sad. There is somebody or something walking there, to be crowned with
flowers: and my pleasure is in some promise yet possible and in the
resurrection of the dead.

G. K. Chesterton, A Miscellany of Men

The Copycat Hypothesis: Part 2

(Continued from part one)

In part one, we looked at what atheists are saying about the gospels being copied from Pagan myths.  We found that it was not true.  Bluntly, what these people say about Pagan myths is one hundred percent wrong.  In the relevant mythology, the Pagan deities and characters simply don’t do what proponents of the myth say they do.  None of the Pagan characters in question were born of a virgin, none were resurrected, none had twelve disciples, &c… &c…  So in short, there’s nothing to see here.  Are all the atheists who promote this theory just big, fat liars?

Yes and no, but mostly yes.  If we want to know where the copycat hypothesis came from, we can trace it back to the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  At that time there were a few scholars, though not many, who believed it.  Modern-day proponents of the copycat hypothesis constantly quote books that are more than a century out of date, since all more recent and rigorous scholarship flatly contradicts their beliefs.  Francis Cumont’s The Mysteries of Mithra, published in 1903, is a favorite of these people.

Are there more modern sources that support the copycat hypothesis?  Yes.  The best known is Achyra S., a pseudonym for a women who claims to be “scholar” but has never published any academic material or held any position in any field relating to the history of Jesus.  She describes her website as a hub of astrology and other things that scientific atheists normally despise, yet they continue to quote her abundantly.  Why?  Beats me.

Ms. Achyra’s articles are classics of intellectual dishonesty, fact-twisting, and outright absurdity.  For example, take a gander at this article entitled Was Krishna Crucified?  Achyra says the answer is yes because Krishna was shot with arrows, which is kind of like being crucified.  Her source this is the book Bible Myths and Their Parallels in Other Religions, which was published in 1882.  She does not present any more recent source to justify her claim about similarity between Krishna myths and the gospels.  Likewise every article on her website is littered with ridiculous, out-of-date sources and nonsensical arguments.

So besides Achyra S., is there anyone still upholding the Christ myth theory today.  The name one most commonly hears is G. A. Wells, who the atheists will refer to as “a scholar”.  They do not mention that he was a scholar of German language, with no credentials in any field related to the Gospel.  They also don’t mention that Wells ended up changing his mind and acknowledging that Jesus did exist.

I could go on.  And on.  And on.  Thanks to the technological marvel known as the internet, anyone can post anything, and among atheists there will always be plenty of people willing to believe whatever they read, rather than asking critical questions.  Anyone who puts real research into the topic will quickly find that the advocates of the copycat hypothesis don’t have a leg to stand on.  The same is true regarding the old flat earth argument and countless others.  Why is this?  Don’t we all know that atheists are rational, skeptical, and plunge through the layers of mythology to find the cold, hard truth?  And that Christians are deluded and credulous and brainwashed?  So why is it that whenever we do actual research on an issue, the actual facts found by actual scholars always support the Christian viewpoint?

Why indeed?
Online resources:

Bede’s Library.  A short but professional and well-written list of articles responding to copycat claims and others.

Tektonics.  An excellent online apologetics ministry with a comprehensive debunking of copycat claims.

GakuseiDon.  More apologetics work, though unfortunately not updated often.

 

Print resources:

The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, by Dr. Craig Blomberg

Lord or Legend: Wrestling with the Jesus Dilemma, by Gregory Boyd and Paul Rhodes

The Case for Christ, by Lee Strobel

Mark

Another month, another instance of me not even trying to post regularly.  During summer, I actually have less regular access to the internet.  I have been doing things, however: home repair, hanging out with my fiance, visiting friends, going on vacation to western New York and seeing Niagra Falls, that sort of thing.

I’ve also been rereading the Gospel of Mark, and I’ve gotten into an excellent commentary: Mark for Everyone, by N. T. Wright.

 

The Gospel of Mark, like all books of the Bible, is both straightforward and deep.  One can read it only once without commentary and learn directly who Jesus was and what he did.  One can read it many times, with endless commentary, and continue to pick up more and more facts, connections, and ideas.

In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is constantly doing things.  He moves fast.  He runs around Palestine, across the Sea of Galilee, down the coast to the country of the Gerasenes.  In this summer’s biggest blockbuster, The Avengers, Captain America is a superhero who never backs down from a fight and is always willing to help the helpless.  Jesus in Mark’s Gospel is like that.  He is Captain Israel.  Whenever there’s a young girl who’s recently died, Jesus hurries to the scene and performs a resurrection. If there’s a demoniac living among the tombs, Jesus rushes in and casts the demons out.  When there’s a hungry multitude, Jesus gets there and feeds them.

Mark’s Gospel is also loaded with detail.  He gives specific names, locations, and physical descriptions.  He tells us what physical actions the characters take.  His dialogue captures the ebb and flow of real human conversation.  All of this serves as evidence that Mark’s Gospel is real, eyewitness testimony of the life of Jesus.  As I mentioned before in my post about Simon of Cyrene, historians of the ancient world treat such details as indicators of real historical writing.

And Mark’s Gospel is highly theological.  Some skeptics will try to make hay out of the fact that in this Gospel, Jesus never directly declares himself to be either the Messiah or God.  In fact, for those who read it carefully, the text is packed with instances of Jesus claiming exactly those things.  When Jesus declared that He could forgive sins, that was both a messianic and a godly claim.  When Jesus healed people on the Sabbath and gave His followers permission to work on the Sabbath, that was both a godly and a messianic claim.  N. T. Wright’s book is particularly good and explaining the symbolic significance of these and other key events in the Gospel.

Biblical Economics

The first minister I ever met after converting to Christianity often made fun of books with titles like The Seven biblical Principles for a Happy Marriage.  He would hold up a copy of the Bible and thumb through the pages while challenging anyone to find him a happy marriage in these pages.  The point was funny but also sound.  We should not try to pretend that the Bible directly addresses modern issues that it actually doesn’t address, and we shouldn’t try to cram our favorite mottos and messages into Biblical stories if they aren’t actually there.

There’s a similar problem with trying to find any financial advice in the Bible.  The Bible was written thousands of years before modern economic systems existed, and hence it does not directly address modern economics.  It does, however, contain stories, songs, prayers and sermons whose principles are valid across the ages, and with that in mind we may look for hints of what direction we should move in.

Every intelligent person knows, of course, that the Book of Genesis is a worthless collection of old fairy tales that no one can take seriously anymore; I’ve heard internet users say so scores of times.  I’m not here to comment on the validity of that assertion.  In chapter 41 of Genesis, Pharoah has two dreams and asks for someone to interpret them.  Joseph is brought from prison and explains the meaning of the dreams: there will be seven years of abundance, followed by seven years of famine.  Joseph then advises Pharoah to store up grain from the good years so that his people will have plenty to eat during the lean years that follow.  This proves to be a good advice, though again I offer no commentary on whether the Book of Genesis contains anything worthwhile for modern readers.

The United States of today is in a position similar to the Egypt of four thousand years ago.  We are a wealthy, powerful nation with plenty for ourselves and the might to intimidate every nation around us.  We have also had a time of abundance.  From roughly 1983 to 2007, we have experienced the greatest prosperity of any nation in world history.  So did the nations of western Europe and other first-world nations.

Now what did we do with that amazing prosperity?  One who wasn’t in touch with events might think that we’d take advantage of it by putting ourselves on a solid future.  Surely we would pay down our debts, repair crumbling infrastructure, build up schools and other institutions that would guarantee our future.

Of course we didn’t do any such thing.  Our governments (federal, state, and local) squandered its surpluses on uselss foreign wars, corporate handouts, and jacking up spending in any area you’d care to name.  Corporations bid it all on short-term schemes and  “bubbles”.  Individuals went hog-wild on massive houses, SUVs, HD TVs and other junk that they couldn’t afford.  Not only did we spend all the fruits of our prosperity, we even took out massive loans to finance even more binge spending.

Then 2008 came, and the first bills started to come due.  They are still coming due today.  They will be coming due for a long time to come, and almost everyone in the western world will eventually have to put up with a lower standard of living than what we were used to.

If we had collectively approached fiscal decisions in the way that Joseph recommended to Pharoah, thinks might have gone differently.

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