Weekly Buzz: 10/20/14

God-sky

A Christian scholar offers to eat a page of the Bible if Jesus never existed. An atheist gives awesome advice for interfaith dialogue. And Dr. Steve Brule’s back to entertain you.

It’s the weekly buzz. 

“Atheist communities need religious ambassadors”

Over at NonProphet Status, a blog you need to be reading, Wendy Webber wrote a wonderful piece about interfaith dialogue.

Webber, an atheist who graduated from Yale Divinity School, describes her mission as “advocating for atheists, working to remove the fear and prejudice that often surrounds them.”

To accomplish this mission, she grows genuine relationships with religious folks; her presence in religious circles puts a face, a name, and a voice to the word “atheist.” She combats religious people’s fear that all atheists are angry anti-theists. As she notes, this stereotype is very wrong: less than 15% of atheists are actually anti-theists. Of course, personal relationships with atheists like Wendy drive home this statistic far more than simply reading it.

Toward the end of her post, she calls for religious people to follow her example:

There is power in speaking as a religious outsider. Therefore, I would love to see more religious people showing up in atheist settings too. I want atheists and believers to better recognize each other’s humanity, and ambassadors are more effective than spokespersons. I am doing my best to be an effective humanist ambassador. The atheist community sorely needs religious ambassadors to atheist communities. I need my counterpart in atheist circles.

Her whole blog post is excellent and worth a few minutes of your time. Her words really resonated with me. In my opinion, there are two reasons why Christians should become ambassadors in atheist circles:

  1. If I’m wrong about something as important as God’s existence, I want to know sooner rather than later. Any faith that survives by isolating itself isn’t much of a faith at all.
  2. As Chris Stedman says so well, personal relationships should precede religious arguments. We should view the other as a human being worthy of respect first, and only then explore any disagreements. We should view our disagreements through the lens of our agreements—not the other way around.

During each of my three years at Duke Divinity School, I was a member of Duke’s chapter of the Secular Student Alliance. I didn’t become an atheist, but I learned a lot from my friends in the group.

What kind of experiences have you had with atheist/Christian dialogue? What do you think of Webber’s article?

BioLogos Invites Ken Ham to Lunch

Ken Ham, a young-earth creationist, wrote an inflammatory article about Dr. Hugh Ross, an astronomer who believes the earth is billions of years old: “Hugh Ross Twists the Bible to Fit Man’s Fallible Opinions.”

The president of BioLogos, Dr. Deborah Haarsma, wrote a blog post in response to Ham’s treatment of Ross. She concluded her post with a proposal: “Perhaps Ken Ham could join Hugh Ross and me for a friendly conversation over dinner? My treat.”

How did Ham respond to this olive branch? After comparing himself to Nehemiah, he dismissed it as a waste of time:

Now, of course, I don’t consider Dr. Ross a personal enemy (as Nehemiah considered some of his detractors)—he is actually a pleasant person. But he is what I would call an enemy of biblical authority. He already knows our views, and we know his.

Hugh Ross lamented Ham’s rejection of the lunch offer: 

Ham not only turned down the dinner invitation, but also seized the opportunity to exalt himself and denounce the two of us. In doing so he likened himself to Nehemiah, who wisely rejected the malignant invitations, deliberate distractions, of Sanballat and Tobiah (Nehemiah 6).

Does anyone else find this comparison disturbing? Although Ham mentions that we are not exactly like Sanballat and Tobiah, let’s consider what those characters were up to. As enemies of God and of His people (Nehemiah 6:1), they were intent on bringing harm and intimidation (Nehemiah 6:2, 9).

What do you make of this exchange? 

“The Genius and Faith of Faraday and Maxwell”

Dr. Ian Hutchinson, who teaches nuclear science and engineering at MIT, wrote an article for The New Atlantis about science and religion. Hutchinson examined scientists Michael Faraday and James Clerk Maxwell:

What Faraday and Maxwell, in their study of nature, were committed to most fundamentally was the discovery of lawfulness and coherence: the conceptual unification of apparently distinct phenomena, such as electricity and magnetism and light. Lawfulness was not, in their thinking, inert, abstract, logical necessity, or complete reducibility to Cartesian mechanism; rather, it was an expectation they attributed to the existence of a divine lawgiver. These men’s insights into physics were made possible by their religious commitments. For them, the coherence of nature resulted from its origin in the mind of its Creator.

Hutchinson has also written an interesting book about scientism, the idea that science is the sole source of truth.

“I’ll eat a page from my Bible if Jesus didn’t exist”

Yes, that’s a real headline. Dr. John Dickson, the founding director for the Centre for Public Christianity, issued a unique challenge:

To repeat a challenge I’ve put out on social media several times before, I will eat a page of my Bible if someone can find me just one full Professor of Ancient History, Classics, or New Testament in an accredited university somewhere in the world (there are thousands of names to chose from) who thinks Jesus never lived.

What prompted this interesting challenge? Dickson’s frustration with folks who deny Jesus’ existence:

I don’t deny that there are substantial questions that could be raised about the Christian faith, but the historical reality of Jesus of Nazareth isn’t one of them.

Dickson is right. Scholars of all faiths, and none at all, agree that Jesus existed. You don’t have to take my word for it, though. An agnostic Bible scholar, Dr. Bart Ehrman, became so fed up with arguments that Jesus never existed that he wrote a book about it: Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth. For a great summary of this book, watch this video of Ehrman.

What do you think of Dickson’s challenge? Do you doubt Jesus’ existence? 

“Debating God: Notes on an Unanswered Question”

In The New York Times, Notre Dame philosopher Gary Gutting has been interviewing philosophers about religion. After 12 of these interviews, he decided to pen a reflection—an interview of himself. One of the most interesting parts of the interview is where he says that he is an agnostic Catholic:

G.G.: So are you what we might call a “mysterian theist”?

g.g.: No, I’m an agnostic. I don’t find it reasonable to accept or reject a transcendent God, so I withhold judgment.

G.G..: How can you be an agnostic and still claim to be a Catholic?

g.g.: Because, despite my agnosticism, I still think it’s worth pursuing the question of whether God exists, and for me the Catholic intellectual and cultural tradition has great value in that pursuit.

Gutting’s interview of himself reminds me of when Dr. Steve Brule interviewed himself, even though he acted like he was interviewing his brother. The video is pretty short, but make sure you keep watching until they start talking about egg rolls!

What do you think of this week’s buzz?

13 thoughts on “Weekly Buzz: 10/20/14

  1. Maybe the existence of Jesus is a bit of a red herring. The real question is what did he really do and what was he really. Amazingly the Gospels do not even agree on whether Jesus claimed to be God:

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=124572693

    I was going to list some second order disagreements about Mary, etc., but the whole problem is that it seems incredible that core, basic tenets would not be firmly rooted in each canonical Gospel.

    Another interesting issue is that on the one hand the Romans definitely did not have a census that required everyone to go back home to their ancestral town:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Census_of_Quirinius#The_Census

    But the mere fact, as Hitchens explained, that someone felt the need to make up a whole story about Jesus going to Bethlehem and all that strongly suggests that someone did in fact exist, since why else would they have to make so many implausible factual claims vs. just saying that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. There is also the matter of shoe-horning in Jesus’ biography to match prior prophecies. So Jesus probably did exist, but he probably was not God (and probably didn’t even assert that he was) or else he picked incredibly unreliable scribes to document his biography.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Peter, thanks for the great thoughts!

      As Michael says below, you’re totally right that the real issue is who Jesus really was.

      First, though, I think we can say more than Jesus “probably” existed. I think it’s much more certain than that. For a brief explanation of why, see scholar Mike Licona’s response to a Jesus mythicist. (Licona’s response is about five minutes long.)

      Second, I disagree with your comparison of John and the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). There are certainly differences between the four portraits of Jesus’ life, but they all refer to Jesus as divine. Jesus forgives sins, calms a storm, says he is Lord of the Sabbath, etc. These are all things that only God does. I found an excellent article that looks at Ehrman’s claims and lays out many more examples of Jesus’ divinity in the Synoptics.

      My point is that Jesus existed and did things that only God does. I think the heart of the matter is whether or not Jesus’ bold claims were accurate, not whether he existed or made them at all.

      What do you think of this video clip and short article?

      Like

  2. I’ve always been kind of astonished that people question Jesus – the historical Jesus, I mean. His existence is one of those few historical points that should be universally agreed on.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. “Maybe the existence of Jesus is a bit of a red herring. The real question is what did he really do and what was he really. ”

    I totally agree with this.

    “Amazingly the Gospels do not even agree on whether Jesus claimed to be God. I was going to list some second order disagreements about Mary, etc., but the whole problem is that it seems incredible that core, basic tenets would not be firmly rooted in each canonical Gospel.:”

    This I would dispute- I think the Synoptics and John both display a high Christology- I have my own line of reasoning if you’re interested in hearing.

    “Another interesting issue is that on the one hand the Romans definitely did not have a census that required everyone to go back home to their ancestral town:”

    Good point- I think Glenn Miller raises some good points here too: http://christianthinktank.com/qr1.html

    “But the mere fact, as Hitchens explained, that someone felt the need to make up a whole story about Jesus going to Bethlehem and all that strongly suggests that someone did in fact exist, since why else would they have to make so many implausible factual claims vs. just saying that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. There is also the matter of shoe-horning in Jesus’ biography to match prior prophecies. So Jesus probably did exist, but he probably was not God (and probably didn’t even assert that he was) or else he picked incredibly unreliable scribes to document his biography.”

    In regards to the issues of Jesus being born in Bethlehem- I would agree that it is difficult to demonstrate historically this happened- but I think the overall case of the reliability of the Gospels gives us good reason to give this pericope the benefit of the doubt. I also find much recent scholarship that argues the earliest Christology was a very high one that exploded on the scene very early to be very compelling. However- I think this case should be spearheaded with Paul’s own insights on Christology- with the Gospels viewed as an auxiliary line of evidence.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I recently heard an academic researcher say there was no historical record that gives irrefutable proof that Jesus actually lived. He continued, however to make a case for his belief in a Cosmic Christ in which we all share in the form of our souls or the Christos within. Our purpose is to bring out into the world the love and compassions that Jesus taught.
    I see the value in both positions. As human beings we benefit in our spiritual quest by having a physical living image we can relate to. However, as we deepen our faith, go inward and begin to practice our beliefs, the Idea of Jesus takes on a living reality in the present, in our lives and for me this precludes the need for a physical Jesus.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Francis Bennett (no relation to me) is a former Trappist monk who has written a book entitled, I Am That I Am. He has researched and studied Philosophy extensively and resonates with many traditions. He is accepting of all spiritual seekers and is open to any belief system that wakes people up. He believes that Jesus is a symbol of awakening and feels that we are both fully human and fully divine. He is in the process of writing a second book.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks for the info on Francis. I’ll have to check him out.

    I have to admit, though, that I’m very skeptical of anyone who makes it sound like Jesus might not have existed. Scholars of all faiths are united on this historical truth.

    Like

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