Quoted from my own post on the richarddawkins.net forum:
Strobel didn't look very hard for others who've died for a known lie. Think of all the captured soldiers in wars throughout history who told false tales to their captors about their comrades' plans and whereabouts. Knowing that all their friends might be caught or killed if they told the truth, some brave men and women stuck to their lies even as they were tortured to death. Their armies might even have relied on the captors accepting the false information to set up raids, ambushes or escapes.
This is why one knowingly dies for a lie: it serves one's cause for others to believe it. In this case, the false idea that nobody would die for a lie is very helpful for the purpose.
It's simple to apply this to the resurrection.
Many modern Christians will tell you that believers are happier and more moral, and make the world a better place to live. In other words, they think it's better for someone to believe whether or not it's true (though they hasten to add that it is). Atheists meet this prejudice all the time. Even ignoring this, the apostles' friends and families were Christian and were in for a rough time if there weren't many more Christians very quickly.
For one reason or another, the apostles wanted people to be Christians. Whether or not they saw the resurrected Jesus, they wanted people to think they had. If they'd broken down under duress at the last moment and said it was all a hoax, all belief would fade (not counting victims of "true-believer syndrome") and it would all be for nothing. If it was a lie, to them it was a lie worth dying for.
I know the reliability of the New Testament is also a good basis for arguing against apologetic like this, but I find there's a greater impact if you can beat them on their own skewed terms.
Thankyou for sharing your feelings, Monica. I'm sorry you were so upset. Among the most imporatnt things about the actions and media you describe is the very fact that you and other regular everyday religious people take them so personally. Sadly, although you would not make fun of atheism there are many Christians who would gladly denounce it, ridicule it and tear it to pieces. Some of us feel the need to respond in kind. It's unfortunate.
In brief, the Challenge is an invitation to publicly deny the Holy Spirit, precisely because the Bible says that doing so prevents one from ever being forgiven (Mark 3:29). It's a commitment to disbelief in response to those who say that everyone's a believer underneath, or that we should worship God just in case he exists. It's also an ongoing opportunity for atheists to declare themselves and show their numbers in the face of the majority religion of the Western world.
David Mills went past declarations and desecrated a Bible to show that it holds no special value to him. All the things he said and did were calculated to put him beyond "saving". That's how confident he is that the Christian God does not exist. It's not intended as an insult to Christians, but to Christianity itself. To individual Christians it is simply an emphatic statement of disagreement.
This brings us back to you, Monica.
- Were you upset because Mills somehow did God or Jesus an injury by soiling their supposed words? What possible harm could a mortal do to those two?
- Were you upset because Mills damned himself? If so, that's considerate of you, but Mills is quite confident that he cannot be damned in this way. He's an adult and he can make his own decisions.
- Were you upset because you have learned to revere physical Bibles as they contain the word of God? Whatever is written in a book, Monica, it's still just a book. The words transcend the paper. That's why burning books never accomplishes anything.
- Were you upset because Mills attacked your beliefs directly? Then keep in mind that he did not attack you. His ultimate message to Christians themselves was simply, "I think you are wrong." Not stupid, not bad, not dangerous, just wrong. Anyone can be wrong; this is not an insult at all. (I will admit, as he would, that he was very rude about saying it.)
It's the same idea with the Imagine No Religion poster. Religion is the target, not religious people. Nobody expects the general populace to suddenly turn extremist en masse and join Al Qaeda or the Westboro Baptist Church.
The poster makes two points:
- Some atrocities are committed explicitly in the name of religion. Whether by Muslim terrorists now or Japanese generals in WWII (under the banner of their god-emperor Hirohito) or Catholic and Protestant soldiers in the Thirty Years War or by island tribes millenia ago, religion has many deaths to answer for. While of course atrocities are also committed for other causes unrelated to religion, lack of religion by itself is not motivation to do any such thing.
- Those who fly planes into buildings and ruin soldiers' funerals are working from exactly the same basic texts as other religious people. Only the interpretations are different. While not everyone chooses the interpretations which lead to violence and bigotry, they are always available. Those who defend their religions as valid, justified and in need of protection sadly make it easier for the extremists within those religions to do the same with their own versions.
You have every right to be offended by whatever strikes you that way, but there's no reason to be personally insulted. It's not our intention to upset you, either; that achieves nothing. We're just trying to make points forcefully and encourage people to think.
Christians remain tireless in selling the Bible to the masses, hence the continued hotel-room deposits by the Gideons. They just realise that some people might not accept the whole thing at once.
Believing in a god counts as religion all right, but what they're really talking about is organised religion.
Many people with Christian backgrounds maintain a core belief in God and sometimes Jesus while rejecting the majority of church dogma and no longer attending services. The pastor you mention is targeting these people with his statement, doing his best to reach them where they are and encourage them to be more devout. His hope is that they will eventually find their way back to church, preferably his church.
On the flip side, there are also those who no longer believe at all and yet go to church regularly, out of loyalty or tradition or sense of community or what have you. Perhaps they just enjoy the ceremony and the music. Some call themselves "cultural Christians".
I’ll do my best to answer your question as precisely (and concisely) as I can. It is said that historical and literary critical scholarship “is wissenshaft, not metaphysics.” That stands true for this article. I say that because these questions are not easy to answer and involve a little bit of scholarly elbow grease to really understand. First and foremost, there is no definitive answer to either of these questions (which we’ll get into), and all the information that we have is really evidence of how much we don’t know, not how much we know. So, when compiling the answers to these questions, scholars will generally be a little liberal with their speculations and more often then not they are answering with ‘Bible-colored glasses’—especially if you look at any monograph or historical critical book before the 1970’s. But, luckily for us and all literary critical and historical critical scholars everywhere, scholars finally started to remove those ‘Bible-colored glasses’ (See my new introduction to my book posted here).
Archaeological evidence and new methods of textual criticism has lead many scholars to reevaluate what they had originally thought about the dating and authorship of Biblical texts. For several hundred years, scholars had assumed the authenticity of the Bible narratives themselves, leading many to falsely assume that the original composition of the majority of the Bible was in Hebrew and Aramaic, leaving only the New Testament (for the most part) room to have been written in Koine, or common, Greek. But recently the authorship and composition dates have been challenged, and a new, more probable conclusion on these issues has led some scholars to question the composition language of the texts, most specifically in the Old Testament. Additionally, new finds at Qumran have allowed for a great deal of revisionist thinking on scribal methods and composition language. And finally, with fresh new perspectives on Diaspora life for both Jew and Gentile, these new revisionist ideas started to fit in more broadly to the conclusions of composition language, no longer allowing scholars (specifically on the conservative side) to take this vital subject for granted.
What is now being argued, specifically by the Copenhagen school, and the incredibly brilliant scholarship of Philip R. Davies, is that the original composition was not even in Hebrew, as was previous thought, but rather it was written in Greek. This revolutionary thinking is based on a lot of very fine research, and fits in quite well with the socio-cultural settings of Hellenistic Jews. Since we do not have any copies of the Old Testament, at least in the vein of a collected group of works such as the Torah, prior to the Hellenistic Age, and so many Jews during the Hellenistic period used the Septuagint, it leaves Davies conclusions in a very compelling position. It was assumed for a long time that the composition of the Greek Old Testament was ordered by a Greek King during the period to add to his extensive library, which is part of the reason many scholars in earlier decades believed that the Greek translation came later. But this story was eventually discovered to be a product of Jewish fiction. What we know from that period is that so many Jews wrote fictions (like the story above about the Greek King), and they did so writing them in true Hellenic fashion; that is, they wrote them in Greek.
To be clear, that is not to say that these traditions did not exist prior to the Hellenistic Age, Thomas Thompson has provided a good case for (and now the majority of Old Testament scholars agree) the dating of these traditions to the Persian period (538-323 BCE roughly), but up until the Hellenistic age, these stories were not compiled or written down. Because of the new government sponsored school systems called Gymnasium, many elite Jews and wealthy Jewish families who were politically sealed with the Greek rulers, were permitted (as citizens) to attend school and receive formal training in the art of literature composition, rhetoric, and philosophy. Part of this schooling was very dependant on using older narrative models to teach basic grammar. Using these literary models is a process called imitatio or imitation—a form of mimetic learning and eventually authorship. The foundational models used by practically all schools were the Homeric epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey. With these Greek epics, one can clearly see the parallels found in Old Testament literature, and why so many Hellenistic Jews played with this model when writing many of the dozens of pseudepigraphical and deuterocanonical books. Even Josephus and Philo play with the themes of this Greek model when writing their own ‘histories’ of the Patriarchs and other Old Testament figures.
So, with all of this in mind, the Torah, some of the Prophetic books, and many of the wisdom books were probably originally composed in Greek, and later adapted for Jewish settlements and villages in both the Greek polis’ and the chora (rural areas in Egypt), as well as other Diaspora settings where these settlements are not fully or mostly Hellenized and still communicated in Aramaic. There are perhaps some narratives that were originally composed in Hebrew, such as 1 Maccabees, Ester (although it seems more likely composed originally in Greek, the debate continues), Ecclesiastes (although some debate on this continues, the dating ranges from the fifth – third centuries BCE), and some of the prophetic books. Virtually all of the deuterocanonical books of the Hebrew Bible were not written in a Semitic language but rather in Greek.
Additionally, New Testament scholarship had for a very long time thought that the original composition of some of the Gospels (if not all of them) was in Aramaic, reflecting eyewitness authorship which no longer is assumed. Today, it is understood that the Gospels are not the works of eyewitnesses writing on historical events, but also literary creations composed by anonymous authors with very different motivations. The Gospel narratives, like many of the Old Testament literature, were written in Greek. All of Paul’s letters and the various pseudonymous epistles and Revelations were also written in Greek. And probably most of the Gnostic literature found at Nag Hammadi were also originally composed in Greek, and then later copied into Coptic – the language we currently have most of them in today (although some Greek fragments remain for some of them). The language adaptation of the texts reflects the adaptation of the interpretation by the authors of other narratives. It is all relative, and represents the times and culture of the day.
These phenomena may seem strange to those who believe the scriptures to have been authored by the names represented as their titles. But it is also important to keep in mind that there was no “canon” of scripture. The concept of “canon” was not yet developed, so the nature of reinterpretation, creation and development was not limited to what was considered “inspired” – it was all considered to be inspired. It was just not considered inspired by what churches today believe it to be. People wrote and rewrote the text in the language that reflected their communities. There was no “orthodoxy” of Jewish doctrine, that concept did not exist for another few hundred years. Even today I would hesitate to say there is one unified doctrine, especially in light of the hundreds of Abrahamic religious sects; from Judaism with its hundreds of sects, to Christianity with its tens of thousands of sects, with Islam and the interpretation of the Quran. There was never a ‘unified orthodoxy,’ nor will there be. Everyone interprets and copies the texts into their own languages, and still to this day interpret them based on their own understandings and their own communities needs, politics and demographics. This has always allowed for the continuation of redactions, reinterpretations and expressions of both ones faith and their religious texts.
In the end, it will depend greatly on the faithful to one day understand this fact, that there is no absolute answer, and there never was, and certainly the authors of the Bible didn’t believe there to be. The sooner those who believe understand this, the sooner we can all progress as a society.
You're actually asking for three essential things.
1.) Resources on the validity (or lack there of) of Religion
2.) Resources on the psychology of indoctrination (if not on belief in general)
3.) Resources on atheism (or rather, resources on evidence for a god's nonexistence)
For a great book on the psychology of primitive man, and why religion was possibly introduced into society, the two best books that I am aware of on the subject are Daniel Dennet's, Breaking the Spell - which deals specifically with the indoctrination of man into these beliefs and how to get yourself out of that indoctrination, and Julian Jaynes' The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind which deals with primitive man's mental development, and how they viewed the world through their primitive brains, and thus the development of primitive ideas such as "god".
For resources on the validity of Christianity, the book Misquoting Jesus by Bart Ehrman is a very good introduction into who changed the Bible, and for what purpose. Although he is a bit of a scholarly fossil, and I don't agree with all his conclusions, his work is pretty outstanding as far as it goes. Unfortunately, the vast amount of research one needs to do in order to see all the flaws of Christianity is extensive, and can not be read in a few books. Although, a start would be to read the Bible from cover to cover, and mark down all the contradictions and fallacies within, take notes, and check them when you're finished.
For a specific book dealing with the origin of Christianity, I would suggest getting a copy of my book when it is published.
The best to you,
Please help me get my resources so I can continue to historically show the inadequacies of the Bible and early Christians.
My wish list.
Do a little research on the Golden Rule to see just how exclusively Biblical it is. Not.
The Bible has plenty of instructions that everyone would agree are great ideas, like "thou shalt not kill". It also has plenty of instructions everyone would agree are terrible ideas, like much of Leviticus. The good ideas are not only common sense, but they can generally be found in other sources pre-dating the Bible by centuries.
Consider the possibility that the good ethical advice in the Bible is not good ethical advice because it's in the Bible, but rather its human authors put it into the Bible because it's good ethical advice. It's a reflection of human nature, much of which is benevolent.
This may make the Bible a good moral guide if you cherry-pick the sensible parts, but it certainly doesn't establish its God as the only source of morals.
The Christian God certainly does. It's just a matter of whether the Christan God is a fictitious character.
This demand certainly isn't contrary to the idea of free will. We're all free not to accept Jesus, accepting instead the supposed consequences of rejecting Jesus. The choice is Jesus or Hell, or at least the possibility of each. It all gets really sticky when you toss in the possibility of other gods being the true god, because then you don't know whose Hell you'll end up in.
Where Christianity does get complicated on the issue of free will is predestination. If God knows the future and is in complete control of everything (omnipotent), our fates are set and there's nothing we can do to change them. How then is free will possible?