Sunday, September 20, 2015

Let's Talk About Christian Apologetics

Okay, let's start out with a quick explanation of just what Christian Apologetics is.  In a nutshell, Christian Apologetics is when someone defends the Christian religion by coming up with explanations for problems with Christian belief and Christian doctrine that rational thought and skeptical analysis bring up when such thought and analysis are leveled at Christianity.  The word "apologetics" has its roots in the Greek word apologia, meaning "a speech made in defense."  In Ancient Greece, it referred to a defense made during a trial.  After the accusation, the defendant was allowed to refute the charges against him with a reply to the accusation.  Up until the 1700s, the word "apologetics" was used to indicate any sort of intellectual defense made against accusations.  Right around the middle of the 18th Century, however, the word started to be applied only to the defense of religious doctrine and belief, and it is that narrower definition that continues to be used to this day.  Christian Apologetics is specifically the defense of Christianity.


So in a nutshell, that's Christian Apologetics.


The one thing to always keep in mind when discussing Christian Apologetics is that its basically made up nonsense.  The apologist relies on logical fallacy and semantic games to make his point, and counts on the general ignorance of science and the need of most unthinking Christians to have an easy answer to the "blasphemous" accusations made by the skeptical about their religion.  Supposedly, Christian Apologetics is based on "evidence," but the truth is that most of the so-called evidence is nothing more than personal opinion on the part of whatever "scholar" produced it in the first place.  (And producing this supposed "evidence" is a multi-billion dollar a year industry).


Two favorites of the apologist are Lee Strobel and his book The Case For Christ, and Josh McDowell and his book Evidence That Demands a Verdict.  It should be noted that both of these men are ministers.  Neither pretends to any scientific impartiality, objectivism, or unbiased opinions.  Oh sure, both make claims to objectivity, and claim to be looking at Christianity from the viewpoint of scholarly truth, but in practice they are as biased in favor of their own religion as any other believer, and are willing to make the most befuddling leaps of faith (pun intended) to support that religion as they find necessary.  The truth is, both men are snake oil salesmen selling a con game to the gullible.


But then, conning the gullible is the basic essence of religion.


Christian Apologists have nothing to support their personal opinions other than more personal opinion.  They have no access to documents written by Jesus (because no such documents exist), no museums full of Jesus artifacts (because no such artifacts exist), no supporting documents by other writers (because none such documents exist).  In short, they have nothing to support their words but logical fallacy, supposition, guesswork, and -- to put it bluntly -- their own ability to convince people that what they are saying isn't just a big pile of bullshit.  What they do have, though, is faith.  And its faith that not only keeps the pile of bullshit from falling over on itself, its what convinces the gullible to actually buy into it.


The primary source of the so-called "proof" that Apologists use to convince the general public that their arguments are sound that their storybook hero is real is the storybook itself.  The Bible is given the special privilege by these people of being able to confirm the truth of itself.  Unique among all other historical documents, Christians hold that the Bible is "historically reliable" simply because the Bible itself says that it is true.  Yes, that's right.  The Bible is true because the Bible says that it is true.  That's a handy little concession, isn't it?  Now, is there any sort of actual justification for this belief?  Does the Bible give accurate chronologies and verifiable facts about people, places, and things contained within it?  Are there avenues of research that clearly show that the Bible is accurate when it comes to the things it says?


Not at all.  Like any fictional story, the Bible describes a series of unlikely events using a plethora of characters and a mass of completely unverifiable fictional details to tell its story.  Oh sure, the setting for the story, Roman-ruled Judaea, was a real-enough place.  First Century Palestine certainly existed (you can, after all, hop a plane to Israel and visit the ruins).  But that said, fictional stories set in real-world locations do not cease to be fictional.


The central question is this:  Did a Jewish Carpenter walk on water, raise the dead, piss off the authorities, get crucified, and somehow get resurrected and taken up to heaven, just like the Bible describes?  Unfortunately for Christians, the only evidence -- the Biblical "facts", legends, history, and the vast number of "witnesses" -- we have saying that such a person really lived and did all those things are other characters in the same story giving testimony that the Jewish Carpenter in question actually existed.


As Dr. Kenneth Humphreys once put it, "This is rather like proving the existence of Batman by quoting the words of Robin the Boy Wonder."


Think about it.  As evidence of the "divine birth" of Jesus, we have the Book of Luke's testimony of the shepherds and the angels (Luke 2).  Never mind that Luke was written between 75 and 90 years after the supposed birth of Jesus.  The writer of Luke steps forward as a witness to dialogue quoted verbatim.  Jesus turning water into wine?  Well, we've got the writer of the Book of John as our key (and in fact, only) witness, writing his story nearly 140 years after the fact.  And who do we have to vouch for the resurrection?  Evidence for the "risen Christ" actually comes from Paul's testimony of "500 witnesses", none of whom are actually identified, the sightings of 12 apostles, and himself (1 Corinthians 15).  Of course, Paul's testimony contradicts the Book of Matthew, which only has two unidentified women and eleven of the twelve apostles.  The Book of Mark raises Matthews tally to three women and names them (Mary Magdalene, Mary the Mother of James, and Salome), two random passers-by, and the eleven apostles.  The stories don't even match up, but we are expected to take them as if they were unshakable truths, written in stone.  Sure.  Pull the other one.  The entire core belief of Christianity -- the resurrected savior -- rests on just under five hundred self-contradictory words written over a period of 100 years in an ancient and thoroughly discredited book.  Perhaps the writers of the Bible simply expected people to believe as they were told and never question anything.


In addition to the argument that the Bible is true because it says it is true, Apologetics also cite early Christian scholars as evidence.  No, I don't mean they cite the works of these early Christian fathers, they cite the existence of such people.  The supposed lives of these men are used as evidence supporting Christianity, not just what they put down on paper.  For example, Ignatius of Antioch, who lived some time between 50 AD and 115 AD (we're not sure, precisely) has become the lynchpin of the Roman Catholic claim to world mastery.  According to the story, Ignatius was martyred when Emperor Trajan (a man for whom an astonishingly large amount of historical records exist, and who was, in truth, a relatively benign and harmless man as far as Roman Emperors go) took offense to the man for some unexplained reason, and rather than having him tried and executed in Antioch sentenced him to be killed by wild beasts in the Colliseum of Rome.  (This is doubly odd, given that, if that's what Trajan wanted to happen, Antioch had a Colliseum of its own that they could have used.)


We are asked to believe that the Emperor, who was at the time assmbling his armies for the coming war with Parthia, took time out of his war preparations to assign an entire battalion of soldiers to bring bring Ignatius to Rome by way of a long and circuitous land-route that gave Ignatius the opportunity to meet and greet notable Christians nearly every step of his way.  Supposedly along this four month long journey, Ignatius wrote fifteen letters to various individuals, including the Virgin Mary and a Christian bishop who wasn't even born by the time Ignatius supposedly died.  Miraculous!


Of course, the importance of these supposed letters is not to supply historical accuracy to the story, but to bolster Catholic doctrine.  Ignatius's letters are filled to the brim with Fourth Century orthodoxy, telling the faithful how they are supposed to live their lives under the benign rule of the Church, how they are supposed to follow the doctrine supplied by the church, and how they are supposed to live their lives as good Christians.  Note I saidFourth Century orthodoxy.  Coming from the supposed pen of a Second Century martyr.  Amazing how that happens.  In addition, Ignatius is used as the "connecting authority" between the early so-called "Christian Jews" and the first true Christians.  (The first Roman bishop to identify himself as "Pope", Anicetus (who reigned over the church between 156 and 166 CE) -- did so supposedly after being named as such by Ignatius.  Similarly, Clements, Justin Martyr, and Irenaeus are all used in a similar manner to Ignatius, as if the fact that they existed at all validates Christian doctrine, as if, somehow, the fact that a person living in the Second or Third Century somehow proves that a person in the First Century actually existed.


The problem with this being that evidence of belief is not evidence of fact.  If the fact that lots of people believe something means that the belief is automatically true, then that would validate the Hindu gods a lot better than the Christian one, given that Hinduism pre-dates Christianity by three thousand years.


Then there's the "sheer quantity of documentation" argument.  It goes something like "There is only one manuscript copy of Caesar's Gallic Wars and that dates to the Tenth Century.  In contrast there are twenty thousand manuscripts of the gospels in various languages, dating from the Sixth through Twelfth Centuries.  Doesn't that PROVE the correctness of the New Testament?"  Uh, no, it doesn't.  A lie repeated a hundred times does not stop being a lie, and a truth told only once does not stop being a truth.  But what this does show is how few Christian manuscripts -- or even scraps of Christian manuscripts -- managed to survive from before Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire.  Whole libraries full of ancient wisdom and learning -- Pagan wisdom and learning -- were burned to the ground by Christians.  For centuries, by order of the Christian church, the only approved literature was the Bible.  Everything else was forbidden and destroyed.


And modern Christian Apologists have the brass balls to claim that this self-generated lack of documentation for anything other than Christianity is proof of their own religion.  That's sort of like a Nazi saying that the lack of Jewish art is proof of the supremacy of the Nazi cause.


The Apologetics argument that really gets my goat is the one where the Christian asks, "Why would the apostles of Christ have suffered and died for a fake religion?"  Are you kidding me with this nonsense?  Seriously?  People "suffer and die" because they are told lies every single day.  Tell me, Mr. Christian, if suffering and dying for your faith is evidence of the truth of that faith, does that mean the terrorists who flew airplanes into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 go immediately to heaven, as the Koran said they would?  Even better, one early Christian king in what would become Germany is known to have tortured and murdered nearly ten thousand pagan Germans in an effort to force them to convert to Christianity.  Does the fact that they suffered and died prove the existence of Wotan and Thunor?


And that's ignoring the fact that there is precisely zero evidence that the "apostles of Christ" actually even existed, much less were tortured and murdered by the Romans.  At least not until the Christians started turning its attention to burning heretics at the stake.  Paul, for example, never refers to the execution of a single apostle.  Not once.  Though of course that does nothing to diminish the often repeated story of how the Emperor Nero "put Christians to the torch" in a pogram for which no historical evidence exists at all.  Religious-inspired murder proves nothing.


Now, normally, we could all just sit back and laugh at the gullible rubes who get conned into believing this nonsense.  Problem is, this is as rational as some Christians ever get.  And these people vote.


The thought of a truly Christian government in the United States scares me like no other nightmare scares me.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Idiot Men and Wise Women

Consider your average commercial.


As the scene opens, some moronic clown of a man, usually a husband, is struggling to figure out how to do some basic task correctly and is failing miserably. It doesn't really matter what he's doing (laundry, sweeping, doing the dishes, even something as simple as eating lunch...), he's doing it wrong.


But don't worry about him, he's covered! For sure enough, an all-knowing woman (usually his wife but sometimes his co-worker) is there to pull his bacon from the fire. Rolling her eyes and shaking her head in pity, she saves the idiot of a man before he utterly ruins everything. And of course the product being peddled is usually part of the solution. And afterward, the all-wise woman gathers with some of her fellow women (all of whom are wise) and has a nice laugh about the guy, who can be seen in the background messing something else up.


And, by the way, did I mention that the man is stupid?


And of course we’re all supposed to laugh: “Ha, Ha, Ha look at that stupid guy. What an idiot! Good thing all that women were around, right? Because men can't be trusted to breathe and chew gum at the same time without messing it up!"


Now, sometimes there is a variant of this commercial in which it is a pack of children, almost always led and spoken for by a girl, who are the all-wise rescuers of the helpless idiotic father figure. They (the children) step in with the product and save the day.


You know, I have no idea who these people are trying to sell things to, but I know its not me, because commercials like this tend to make me boycott those products. I refuse to give my money to any company that, in their commercials, says to me "Buy our product, you stupid schmuck!"


Now, this is not to say I lack a sense of humor or I lack the ability to laugh at myself from time to time, but I have to tell you, after the thirtieth or fortieth time in a single day I see the "Idiot Man/Wise Woman" style of commercial, I'm tired of laughing and am getting irritated about what is clearly a problem.


You see, I think these commercials are actually hurting our society. They are helping to promote and continue the sexist (not to mention false) attitude that men are all incompetent doofuses who need someone smarter and wiser (not to mention female) to watch over/control/guide them before they hurt themselves or someone else.


Even worse, what are these commercials teaching to children? From what I can see, they're teaching children (especially male children) that adult men are idiotic, crude, foolish, lustful, and untrustworthy. A steady diet of disrespect for a single gender served up in commercials that adult men (especially their own fathers) are to be laughed at, abused, and generally disrespected.


What a healthy message to teach any child, much less a young boy. How does constantly being told that when he grows up, a boy will be a man who is lazy, unfaithful, inappropriate, rude, addicted to beer, unclean and unkept, inattentive, addicted to beer, and an utter moron help that boy become a decent human being?


The "men are idiots" message in these commercials might have a certain humor about it (it is fun to make light of the honest differences between men and women, after all) but in the end, its not the attitude we need to be cultivating. Women do owe men respect, if only as fellow human beings, in the same way that men owe women respect.


Constant ridicule of one segment of society is not helpful for anyone.


I've spoken on this subject before and people have responded with "Yeah, well, its just a joke." Yeah, well, its not funny anymore. One woman told me that "These commercials reflect our culture." Really? You mean to tell me that you think the men in your life (your fathers, your husbands, your sons, and your friends) are truly like this? That they are all idiots and morons who can't be trusted to tie their shoes correctly? What a wonderful opinion you have of them.


Try reversing the roles in these commercials and making the women the butt of the joke and see how funny you think they are after the twentieth time you see women depicted like that. See how soon you decide to boycott the product they are selling in the commercial.


Commercial advertisement, like all forms of public media, not only reflects our common culture but helps shape it. So I ask one more time, how does all this negativity toward men and boys affect the public perception of male human beings in general? I can't see it affecting them in any way but harmfully.


The truth is that its not just the commercials.  There are almost no healthy, balanced portrayals of men in our current popular culture. Its not just the morons displayed in the commercials, its the fact that men are generally portrayed as over-aggressive, overly violent, crude, dirty, and hyper-sexualized. In popular media, the "heroes" are often amoral, out of control, and bordering on criminal when they aren't seen as unintelligent, weak, and ineffectual.


None of which helps anyone become good, caring, attentive, and most importantly responsible husbands and fathers.