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Posts Tagged ‘Bible’

A Look Back At My 2016 Article, “Republicans Can’t Be Christians — Sorry!”

Posted by Scott Holstad on December 18, 2020

President Donald Trump with one of his most ardent evangelical supporters, the sellout Franklin Graham

[I published this earlier today on Medium. It’s literally the same thing, but better proofed and edited, so it’s perhaps 1% better if grammatical mistakes just kill you like they do some. If that’s the case, you may wish to check out the more polished Medium version at https://qbitsof.medium.com/a-look-back-at-my-2016-article-republicans-cant-be-christians-sorry-df0df646a57b?sk=3d225bd2749e3a1b8583594284019316. Cheers!]

In late 2016, I wrote an article and posted it to my blog with the title above. I remembered that recently, went back to read it and thought there were some interesting thoughts, points, assertions, etc. So I’m actually going to repost it here for anyone who may be interested in my viewpoints then and where we’ve gone over the past five years.

I do want to state a few things first though. In no particular order, I would like to find the time to revisit this and write a second version to follow the original, showing how some things have changed and morphed over the past four years, how many of us were surprised to find that nearly half of America is comprised of either explicit or implicit white racists, most of whom deny that term while using others that simply fall under the actual umbrella term just mentioned. Some major ones would be “white nationalists” (very common), “white Christian nationalists” (also very common, though some Christians try to deny this despite the fact that actions speak louder than words), traditional groups such as the KKK and Neo-Nazis, both of whom have rebounded quite a bit from near extinction over the past 15 years, “theist” or “evangelical” nationalists, or really anything with those terms since many people who are exactly that are trying desperately to rid themselves of that term since it now carries so much baggage that much of America hates the terms and the people they represent, “white separatists,” and while there are many more, ultimately the Alt Right, which has mainstreamed so well and so fully that it now represents virtually the entire Republican party, despite that fact that the creator of that term and a person who is highly influential in such circles has declared on television, on tape, that basically the only way to recreate a “real” America for “real” Americans (i.e.., white Europeans) will have to be through genocide (my word), as he states that the country will have to be torn down, the non-acceptables eliminated one way or another (extermination) — beginning with dark immigrants, the sick and disabled, most all minorities in the country, and ultimately virtually all progressives, liberals, Democrats and most important of all, as Trump has made clear, the enemy of all fascists everywhere (and make no mistake — Trump and his ilk ARE fascists, and if you doubt me, simply take 30 minutes to research the term, its history and its standard tactics, propaganda, lies, fear spreading, divineness, mythological victimhood, targeting their enemies by calling them exactly what they themselves are — fascists — and ultimately violence to the point of genocidal murder if they are not stopped. Historical fact and try to deny or debate me, but I can provide ample evidence and anyone stupid enough to challenge that will be shown for what they are.

To be technically accurate, “Nazi” is a term that should be reserved for actual Nazis and their party, “National Socialist German Workers’ Party.” However Nazis and fascists seem largely the the same. Alt Right is a “new” US ideology, the term of which was coined by Richard Spencer, and which has been fairly successfully mainstreamed into Republican/white Christian nationalist politics. It’s generally viewed as a “nice” or “safe” term while still holding the basic tenants of fascists and Nazis. (Photo Credit: FreakTerrorizes)

Additionally, since a standard fascist tactic is to label anyone they deem as enemies as …”fascists”… (it would be funny if it weren’t so dangerous), many people found it fascinating that Trump has always consistently refused to criticize or order down various white nationalist and white supremacist groups while stating he wanted to declare Antifa a terrorist group! Okay, there are several screwed up things with this. Most people in America have never heard of Antifa, or not until recently. And most don’t even know what Antifa is. So A) it’s unconstitutional/illegal for the president to declare any domestic “groups” as terrorists — he can’t legally do that. B) More importantly, as opposed to the KKK, Spencer’s Alt Righters, various Neo Nazi groups and more, there IS NO Antifa group or organization to declare shit! Shit for brains Trump wants people to believe that, but there are plenty of resources out there on this historical movement and people can read for themselves and avoid the fascist propaganda to discover its history, existence, meaning, purpose, various locations, and ideology — because that’s really what it is. It’s an attitude, a shared belief, people lacking a formal organization gathering and working together largely for one goal. Because do you know what “Antifa” literally stands for? ANTIFASCISTS! That’s it! No terrorism, no violence that is not generally defensive only, no organized group with a headquarters, mailing address (or physical address), officers, etc. No significant connections with the much larger, more established and active longer antifascists in Europe, who have been willing to sacrifice their lives to fight Mussolini, Hitler, the genocidal maniacs in the Balkans, in France, Germany, Britain, and now migrating over to the US — something I never thought I’d see. Swastika flags all around? WTF did we fight WW II and why did my family fight, bleed and die on foreign beaches to free millions of people being enslaved and killed by fascists, as well as to protect the rest of the world from the spread of fascism? It sure as shit wasn’t to see Swastikas on federal buildings and the White House grounds! I’ll be damned before I allow that to happen without my doing something to help that movement fail!

Antifascists have existed as long as fascism, starting in Italy around 1919 to defend citizens from Mussolini’s Black Shirts. Over time, while always largely an ideology and never a formal, organized movement, they’ve been given a bad reputation thanks to the fringe right because they are the only people the fringe right are historically scared of, and the Alt Right responds only to fear and power. This is an antifascist holding an Antifa flag at a white nationalist demonstration as a gesture of defiance. “Not Here!” “Never Again!”

One thing I think it’s also important to note is that when I wrote this, I was not an avowed Christian, but more of an agnostic. This came after decades and decades of study, reading, research, reflection, discussion with people of all stripes, etc. However, since then I have continued my journey and concluded shortly after writing this that I do not believe in any supernatural being or anything at all, that the Abrahamic religions are especially stupid, hypocritical and inherently evil, present the greatest danger in world history, that virtually no Christian lay people have or do ever actually READ their Bibles, instead hearing a few verses at church with a nice, affirming sermon, and reading a verse or two in their daily devotionals, etc. I really just finished reading the Bible through from front to back for the 18th time. (I’ve also read the Koran, Hadith, etc.) I see several different things when I reflect on this. One is there are so many contradictions, discrepancies, falsehoods, unsubstantiated crap, inconsistencies, fraud (as in most of the books attributed to Paul have been largely proven to be not his at all, but written by others in his name to give their work creditability — a nearly universally accepted viewpoint by religious scholars), and even virtually an entire lack of independent evidence anywhere in the first century world of the very existence of Jesus of Nazareth, which incidentally did not yet exist as a town or city and wouldn’t for some time. I was brought up to believe the Bible was the inerrant work of God, that everything in it was inspired by God and 100% true, so I find myself amused when such people have to start scrambling to come up with some whoppers when asked just some very simple, basic questions, such as which creation story do you believe and why? Frankly most Christians don’t know there are two (one each in the first two chapters of Genesis), so when confronted with this dilemma, the answers tend to be very creative. (I won’t address the actual creation story when God created everything and “it was good” because that would take too long here, I don’t have the time and there are plenty of resources out there that show what is written cannot possibly be true or accurate for many reasons.) And of course there’s the whole issue of Moses being the author of the first five books of the Christian Old Testament, yet he has this remarkable ability to describe not only his death, but his burial, general burial location and so on in the fifth book. I wish I had those mad skills! (And yes, I’ve heard most of the “explanations,” most of which are almost as insipid as what’s written in those chapters.) And just a couple more easy ones. How do you know which sign above Jesus’s head on the cross to believe or is the “true” one since all four gospels quote the wording differently and no unison at all. Also, which story about his “rising” from the tomb, because there are a bunch of different ones, none of which agree with each other. Of course the ascension story presents a problem too. Then there is the fact that no one knows who the actual authors of the gospels are. Just that the church leaders gave them those names many years after they were written. Moreover, we all grew up reading the precious words of Jesus printed in red in our Bibles. Yet no one writing the gospels (or the creator of Christianity himself — Paul) had ever met Jesus, or even likely even knew anyone who had ever met Jesus, so while people faced with the following dilemma always refer to “the oral tradition” back then, numerous documented studies have been conducted on various tribes in that region to exam the oral tradition, its effectiveness and authenticity, and the results have universally shown this concept to be utter bullshit — it doesn’t work, nearly certainly never did. And to complicate matters, while Mark is considered to be the first book written around 45 CE, or 12-15 years after the alleged death of Jesus, while Matthew and Luke wrote their gospels later, using Mark’s so heavily that many passages are lifted verbatim (although that doesn’t account for the mysterious and anonymous “Q,” who despite total lack of evidence has been accepted by most theologians and religious scholars as a person of great knowledge following Mark and providing critical information for the rest of the authors since there are so many holes and gaps they couldn’t possibly fill, that a source HAD to be made up, er, “found” to explain their knowledge of things they literally could not have known. Look Q up if you doubt me. My point was and is, all of Jesus’s words in red? Utter crap. Why? Should be obvious by now. There were no eyewitnesses who heard Jesus teach in the very few years he did who lives long enough and was fortunate enough to meet Mark or someone who knew Mark to be able to quote the words and wisdom of Jesus. Another point is that Jesus left no personal writings, until Mohamed or some of the eastern messiahs or prophets etc. Why? He, his disciples and virtually certainly all of his followers (the number of which is in doubt and considered by many to be infinitely smaller than most Christians are led to believe) were COMPLETELY ILLITERATE!!! In that part of the Middle East, during that century, most independent documents indicate that at most, 1% of the population were even barely literate. Uneducated fishermen from an area contested to even have existed could not possibly have written any of his words down, so it’s almost certain that everything attributed to Jesus as his sayings, teachings, etc., were completely made up by the unknown authors of the gospels. And while there’s actually a lot more on this topic, and much more on thousands of others, it’s commonly accepted that all of the authors of the gospels were educated Greeks. There are many reasons to support this believe; you can research them on your own. Since Jesus and his followers spoke Aramaic — which these Greek authors were unlikely to understand, although they could possibly have hired translators , although to translate what is a real question since nothing was left by or of Jesus to be translated — things were more complicated by the fact that he also spoke Hebrew, most likely as a result of his lifelong Torah study. Again, this is another language that these Greeks might not have known or known well, and again, even though it’s possible they got translators, going back and forth from Aramaic to Hebrew and back can be both taxing and allow for many possibilities of mistranslation.

There’s so much more, but I really don’t want to focus on that right now. Instead, as I indicated, I want to post what I wrote here in December 2016 because I think it makes for interesting reading, not only for then, but obviously for all of the things that have transpired since. And I do want to write a follow-up sometime, but my time is very limited these days, so I’m not sure when I’ll get to that.

In any event, while admitting to not having gone back to read the original, my post was apparently originally inspired by a Huffington Post article, the URL of which I supplied in my piece. After I post that, I’ll simply post the text of my original piece for anyone interested to read. I know we’re all actually pretty sick of Trump, fascists, politics, etc., right now, but it’s not yet over, so I feel it’s important to continue to monitor things and educate ourselves. Thanks for reading this excessively long, unplanned intro and here’s the original. Cheers!

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Republicans Can’t Be Christians — Sorry!

(Link to post I reacted to: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/donald-trump-like-jesus-disciples_us_583e48d7e4b04fcaa4d5bd72?ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000063http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/donald-trump-like-jesus-disciples_us_583e48d7e4b04fcaa4d5bd72?ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000063)

Oh, holy shit! If this doesn’t discredit ALL CHRISTIANS in everyone’s eyes, than what will? Trump a disciple of Jesus? Trump EVERY disciple of Jesus rolled into one? Are the Christians going totally insane now? At this point, with 81% of all white evangelicals having voted for Trump, it’s obvious to me that today’s Christians have sold out, have sold their souls to the Republican Party and to Fox News, do not care about Jesus or his teachings, especially about “love,” “the poor” and caring for them, loving your neighbor as yourself, treating everyone — including immigrants!!! — as equals (Remember the story of the Good Samaritan they always teach in church? Do the Christians ever learn anything from that, considering the Samaritan was from a group of unacceptable immigrant types Trump and his Christian/Republican friends would have thrown out of the country by now, showing their great Christian love and compassion?), about healing the sick — for free, dammit! — and healing the sick occurs a lot in the New Testament, but apparently Christians/Republicans must skip over those parts of the Bible … if they ever actually read their Bibles. What about believers of other religions? The Old Testament God would have had his Israelites go kill all of them. He was permanently pissed off, in a bad mood, and ready to kill everyone who was on his shit list. That’s why so many fundies like OT God. But see, I don’t believe in OT God. Not anymore. I was brought up to believe in him. I was brought up to “love” (hate) and fear (yep!) him. That’s how the “Church” controls you, controls the Christians in its clutches. But I threw that out the window decades ago. There’s no room in my life for brain washing, mind numbing, soul destroying bullshit like that. I feel that God, if there is a god — and I often wonder — created all people and if he does love people, he loves them all equally, no matter what their color, gender, nationality, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or anything else like that is. And I really think Jesus would support that. He said the most important commandment was to love your brother like yourself. He didn’t say white brother. He didn’t say straight brother. He didn’t say that person must definitely be a male. Yet, our wonderful Republican Christians pretty much hate all other religions, and if you go by Trump and his followers, and 81% of white Christians do, then they all hate Muslims especially, even though there are two billion of them in the world today. Hating two billion of God’s children is sure to make God proud of you, his personal representative on earth, showing the rest of us just how great it is to be a Christian and what a loving, tolerant religion it is. Not. Christians, I’m not convinced God would approve of you actively hating two billion of his children and acting to work against them in one way or another, at a minimum, to keep any of them from entering our country, a nation of immigrants, a nation where each and every one of our families have come from other countries through immigration, something we’re now trying to deny people of a different religion, and most of them a different ethnicity, just because they’re not white Christians and therefore not acceptable. I’m becoming more and more convinced that it is literally impossible to be a current Republican, especially a Trump Republican, and a true Christian at the same time. No true follower of Jesus and his teachings would ever endorse what Trump and the current Republican party stand for. They simply clash too much. Today’s Republicans stand for hatred, not love, helping the rich and hurting the poor, screwing the sick, starting or sustaining violence and wars, something Jesus symbolically taught Peter he wouldn’t have supported on the night of his arrest, Republican oppression of women, while it’s clear in the New Testament that some of the most important disciples to help Paul were women and the first people to be given knowledge and proof of a risen Jesus were women, Republican hatred, repression of and oppression of virtually all minorities, especially black people, while New Testament Christians had members of all races, including Jews, obviously, other Middle Easterners, Africans, Romans, Greeks and other Europeans, even Asians and apparently far Eastern people. Jesus welcomed people from all demographics. God made everyone, let’s not forget that. It seems that most of today’s Christians/Republicans have, unless he did it to create slaves for them? Cause I honestly don’t know what their thinking is regarding God’s motivation for creating minorities since they obviously hate, resent, repress, oppress, and abuse them so brutally and have for centuries. How do today’s Christians justify this? Cause I just read an article yesterday that basically said that it was white, rural, Christian, mostly poor voters who just put Trump in office, as well as many of these other Republican freaks who want to destroy the country and the world, and that pretty much every single one of them are white Christian racists, whether overt or not, as well as anti-education (did God tell us he wanted us to be stupid?), anti-“liberal,” (cause obviously *I’m* the bad guy here, right? Cause I’m an educated liberal “elite.” Shit. Pretty much every Republican political leader has an impressive college education. Trump has an Ivy League education!). But I’m getting off topic. Today’s Republicans can’t be Christians because they all want revenge and vengeance for everything. Long jail terms! Stiffer prison sentences! Three strikes! Death penalty! Hell yeah! Oh, what did the Bible say? Vengeance is mine says the Lord? Judge not lest ye be judged? I often wonder if today’s Christians have ever read the Bible. My bet is, maybe a few Psalms, some books of the Old Testament, cause God is pretty pissed there and a pissed God is pretty rad. Maybe a couple of key New Testament verses. Not much else. Of course they’ve all had Sodom and Gomorrah drilled into their heads all their lives, so they hate gays more than anything on earth, homosexuality, the controversial and debatable alleged sin in Sodom thought of as the abominable sin. But do they ever stop to think about how many times Jesus mentioned homosexuality in his teachings? Zero. Never. Paul did. A couple of times.Paul was somewhat sex obsessed. Paul had issues, IMO. Jesus never brought it up. Also, how many times did Jesus condemn abortion, the other major Christian topic of hatred? Zero. None. Never mentioned it. It is mentioned in the Bible, I believe, although I’m willing to be wrong on that, but the Jews had/have an interesting take on things like that and things like the question of when does life begin. Republican Christians have been fighting for decades to get the courts to make it the law of the land that life begins at conception. But that’s not what Jews God’s chosen people, believe. And remember, they base ALL of their religious/moral/ethical beliefs on what is written in the Torah/Old Testament, etc. Jews believe life does not begin until a baby is actually born, has come out of its mother’s body and has taken its first breath on its own. With that first breath on its own, life has then begun for that baby. And not a moment before. Think about that. Jesus wasn’t a Christian. They didn’t exist at the time, obviously, and he didn’t come to earth to start a new religion anyway. Paul founded the Christian religion, based in large part on the teachings of Jesus. But Jesus had nothing to do with it himself. He was a practicing Jew. He worshiped in the synagogue on Shabbat. Thus, he would have shared this belief. For Jesus, life would have begun at birth, not conception. Therefore, abortion is acceptable to Jews. It always has been. I’m no religious historian, but I’m under the impression that this stance dates back centuries, possibly and probably pre-dating Jesus. If so, he would have known of this Jewish stance on abortion and since he never once mentioned it or certainly spoke out on it, it’s safe to assume he agreed with it and endorsed it. My point is that at a minimum, topics like helping the poor (the most frequent topic Jesus ever spoke about), taking care of the sick and the helpless, healing others, PAYING TAXES!, praying, faith, giving one’s wealth, riches, and possessions away to follow God, having the right priorities, forgiveness, peace, doing away with religious hypocrites (like current Republican Christians), and compassion were all infinitely more important to him and his teachings and followers than trendy conservative Christian hot topics like homosexuality and abortion, as well as many other current Christian topics that I don’t think represent Jesus or his teachings.

An aside. Not a day goes by when I don’t hear some quote or two coming from that absolute insane “Christian” leader, Pat Robertson. I think if there was ever a famous public figure claiming to represent God in current times who consistently just gets it WRONG every single damn time, it’s him. For decades, he has advocated conspiracy theories of all types, no matter how crazy. He has called for our country to assassinate another countries’ leaders. (Seriously??? WWJD? Does he really think Jesus would approve of that? If so, why? Where in the Bible did he get that idea?)  He has called for violence against abortion doctors, for overt sustained discrimination against gays, crying out for Christian backlash to the Supreme Court’s ruling allowing gay marriage. He constantly makes pronouncements like God is going to destroy America because we allow homosexuals to marry or God’s going to allow one country or another to attack or invade America as a way of punishing us for our love of gays or every time there’s a natural disaster, such as Katrina, Robertson’s on TV announcing it’s God’s judgement on America for one sin or another and oh yeah, this is great, every time there’s a mass shooting, he’s right there on TV doing God’s will, blaming it on America’s failing morals, how we don’t pray in schools anymore – – I can see Republican God getting so pissed off at no prayer in schools that he sends gunmen to schools across America for mass shootings to pay back the damn liberals running this country, even though it’s a Republican Congress, a conservative Supreme Court, a mostly Republican country in terms of Red states and governors, etc. Yeah, it’s the damn liberals in charge. You know, the same ones who can never pass common sense gun laws that might stop these sorts of things and save dozens of lives because powerful groups like the Christian Republican NRA and its politicians all over the country constantly block any law of any sort from ever passing that would ever help save lives and stop mass shootings. Cause Republican Christians know that Jesus would undoubtedly carry an AR15 with him if he were around today. One of his dozens of guns he would own. The fact that he was unarmed while alive and told his followers to put their weapons away when he was threatened apparently is meaningless to these people. Jesus was not a passivist. He would kick ass and take names!  — Anyway, Robertson. An example to America, at least the rest of us, of what today’s Republican Christians are and have become over the years — crazy, violent, hateful, intolerant, bigoted, spiteful, vindictive, mean spirited, and someone who shows no desire to follow Jesus’s teachings to care for the poor, to feed them, to heal them, to care for them, cause Obamacare is obviously of the devil himself since a black Democratic president came up with it, even though it was originally inspired by rich, white, religious Republican governor with great success. That doesn’t matter, because the president who made it a national program and law is a Democrat and, even worse, black. Therefore, it’s evil and must be repealed. Even though it pretty much does what Jesus called for us to do. That’s secondary. There are more important things at stake here. To Robertson and his ilk.

Super Christian Donald Trump with Super Hypocrite Pat Robertson

Anyway, Jesus did mention feeding and caring for the poor dozens and dozens of times though. And he did mention how hard it would be for rich people to get into heaven. Like practically impossible. Which makes me feel pretty good about Trump’s ultimate destination. And Robertson. And all other well off Christian Republicans. Cause although they’re convinced they know where they’re going when they die, I’ve got a pretty good idea they’ll end up surprised. Cause I don’t view them as Christians. And I don’t think God does either. In the end, it will be Jesus who will say, “Get away from me. I don’t know you.” New Testament, by the way. In case you’re a Christian. I assume you haven’t read that part of the Bible, since it’s not about getting rich or hating people or attacking our enemies or hurting as many people as we can. Yay Christians! Yay Republicans! Enjoy each other’s company. In hell.

President Donald Trump, fearless leader of the evangelical Christians, looking ticked as he reportedly holds a Bible upside down for a photo op in front of a DC church while his goons, led by Barr, attacked, beat and gassed a crowd of Constitutionally legal peaceful protestors. The fact that he is unable to name a favorite Bible verse, let alone anything specific about the Bible, while he’s reportedly kept a copy of Mein Kampf on his nightstand for years is irrelevant to the now blatantly hypocritical Christians who care nothing of Jesus, but a hell of a lot about money and power. The Antichrist and his sheeple. Awesome.

Scott Holstad

December 17, 2020

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Book Review: Bart Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth

Posted by Scott Holstad on October 20, 2020

Well, unfortunately I’m rather livid at the moment because even though I had written I do not have the time or energy for a proper review due to severely bad health and a late time of night, I had just spent 1.5 hours working on the BEGINNING of a review, presumably saving as I went along as I always do. However, I don’t know what happened, but the page refreshed and everything was lost — all of my time and work and I don’t have the time or energy to try to recreate that, so I’m very unhappy. As a result, I’m just going to leave a few minor paragraphs or so with apologies… I did want to do it justice.

Normally I’m a fan of Bart Ehrman’s, although I don’t always agree with him. Unfortunately, I think this is his worst book and I’m shocked he put his name to it. Frankly for the scholar people view him as and he frankly promotes himself to be, he embarrasses himself in his sad efforts to first, trash the credentials of those he opposes in the initial stages of the book, especially as compared to his own “fantastic” academic credentials, which should be beneath him for multiple reasons: 1) it’s unnecessary and unprofessional, 2) other people DO have legitimate credentials despite what he thinks, and worse, he misrepresents at least one or more in terms of their specialties proving a lack of validity in facing a scholar of his character and 3) while I don’t have time to go into all of his academic background, I doubt he’d love it if people knew the initial fundamentalist “academic” institution where he obtained a three year (?) degree acknowledges on its own website currently that this degree was NOT accredited. Moreover, as someone who over the course of my entire life, have known countless friends, colleagues and family members who attended and graduated from Moody Bible Institute, I can attest to the fact that not one of them were able to find professional employment post-graduation, largely due to their spurious academic “qualifications.” This, the vaunted academic “scholar” Bart Ehrman!

As to the book, his arguments are weak and generally beneath his usual standards — by far — and do little to convince anyone that he has outdone his “opponents.” Indeed, he actually relies on hearsay and speculation, which are hardly convincing in the academic world. (The fact that no New Testament author ever MET Jesus, let alone possibly even met someone who knew him, is a non-issue for Ehrman as his relates that PAUL, of all of them, CLAIMED to have met Peter and James, yet there is not one shred of either independent evidence nor Jewish evidence to confirm that, so all we have to go on is Paul swearing he did, so must have. Good enough, eh? And I jumped off my roof today and flew around town because despite no one seeing and documenting it, I swear I did and thus it’s true. Not too different from American fantasies in 2020, where whatever one wishes to believe is apparently true. (Until science proves them wrong. Like every time.) Another little hint is the long acknowledged fact that while no one in the Bible, including the authors of the Gospels, can possibly provide evidence (nor is there independent evidence anywhere) of any sayings of this Jesus, let alone the accuracy of claimed sayings, Paul may have “known” of a couple — through his debatable vision. Again, we have to take him at his word, and then one must wonder why Paul virtually NEVER refers to Jesus’ actual LIFE. If he “knew” him as he claimed, wouldn’t he have recorded … something? No, instead we get post-crucifixion spirit Jesus and the religion Jesus never set out to create while Paul himself did.Finally, the actual topic of this book — Did Jesus exist? Well, there are tons of books on the subject, from all angles. And so many areas to cover. And so many Jesus’s back then, as apparently not only was it a somewhat common name, but also somewhat common for others claiming that name while additionally claiming to be the Messiah. More importantly, there are so many clues, examples and outright facts to make one legitimately doubt he existed that it’s entirely possible to assert with authority that he did not exist — as a number of people do. A few things before referring to others. It’s virtually undisputed that the Gospels were written long after his death, that the authors are unknown (with the names attributed to them generally considered to have been so potentially hundreds of years after they were written), that the authors did not know Jesus nor knew anyone else who knew Jesus and the fact that Jesus and his followers are assumed to have been illiterate and thus Jesus never left one shred of any alleged teachings of his, as well as the fact that each gospel was written in educated Greek while this Jesus would have spoken Aramaic (with some Hebrew translation thrown into the gospels for good measure when it came to the alleged prophecies, most of which have been proven to have been taken out of context, simply wrong or even nonexistent), it’s plausible to assert that possibly everything attributed to Jesus, if not virtually all of the gospels themselves, were complete fabrications. Indeed, scholars have had to resort to a hypothetical source they refer to as “Q” (as well as a couple of other such sources) to fill in a ton of blanks, because there is no evidence to support many of the claims made in the gospels, so naturally someone HAD to know the details and we’ll just conveniently call him “Q.” There is absolutely no evidence for this Q, let alone independent evidence at that. A million other things aside, in addition to the well-known town of “Nazareth” Jesus came from not yet actually even existing, thus forcing theologians to stretch hard to make other Greek, Aramaic, Hebrew, Semitic, Arab and eventually Latin translations of words that appeared to be close to “Nazareth” while yet none of them actually meant or were “Nazareth” somehow fit, which REALLY ticks them off due to its inconvenience, ultimately there is literally no independent evidence or mention from the first century (nor virtually any Jewish mention as well, literally) to confirm or even allude to the validity of ANY claims of this Jesus the Jewish Messiah ever existing — and this in a century famous for its record keeping, particularly by the Romans, if not other peoples and races. Thus there are records on nearly everything and everyone of note throughout the empire, and certainly Judea as well, and among untold numbers of records, there are none of any crucifixion of a Jesus of Nazareth (it wasn’t until after 300 CE that Jewish Christian writers and historians began referring in print to a place even called something similar to “Nazareth,” while a Greek variant was found sometime after 220 CE. Indeed, no secular reference to such a town was ever found until a 1962 archaeological dig, which traced the inscription found back to around 300 AD — in Hebrew), none of any mammoth earthquake (let alone any earthquake) on the day of the crucifixion, nor of the temple’s curtain being ripped in half (which Jewish historians would surely have documented), NOR any resurrected zombies wandering the streets of Jerusalem, nor any huge crowds gathering around any teachers in that general area and by that name, nor of any travels, arrivals and departures of any Oriental “wise men” come to worship the babe — who was either there within Herod’s grasp or in Egypt depending on which gospel one chooses to believe — nor of any famous miracles, healings and exorcisms by a Jesus in Galilee (a backwater at the time), and certainly no dead people coming back to life. Etc., etc. There is NO independent evidence to back up a shred of this fancy nor any evidence outside of the Bible itself, and the gospels disagree with each other in so many ways that those who believe the book to be the inerrant word of God (how does one combine four different resurrection stories?) must be driven crazy by this and those who find alternate ways of interpretation then are forced to cherry pick!

It’s late and I can’t continue, so I’ll close with some reference material I’m recommending for dear deluded Mr Ehrman, as well as any other readers who may be interested. These are by no means the only resources — simply ones that come to mind at the moment (although the first is pretty good).

1) Nailed: Ten Christian Myths That Show Jesus Never Existed at All by David Fitzgerald.

2) Jesus: Mything in Action, Vol. I (The Complete Heretic’s Guide to Western Religion Book 2) by David Fitzgerald. If I recall — and it’s been awhile — I think this is the first of a three-book series and this book covers the gospels…

3) Deciphering the Gospels: Proves Jesus Never Existed by R.G. Price.

and an interesting additional book not specifically about Jesus, but really more about the Bible and specifically the Old Testament. It’s an archaeological account by two Jewish academics and scientists who seemingly prove the bulk of what we know as the Old Testament — if true at all — was never ever written until Israel and Judah had been split as separate kingdoms and Israel had been conquered and taken away and while I don’t want to give away all of the spoilers, the gist is these stories appear to be scientifically proven to have not been written until possibly around 700 BCE, thus potentially calling into question basically all we’ve been taught and all we’ve been taught to believe and pretty much everything else associated with it and that follows it. Even if you disagree, it’s intellectually interesting and a good exercise in (internal) debate.

4) The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman.

Ultimately, I would only recommend this book to show people additional confirmation of any scientific or literal evidence of the lack of the Biblical Jesus. If you’re a theocratic religionist who lacks an open mind, this book won’t be for you — it might serve only to irritate you. If you are interested in this debate, or series of debates, you may find this book intriguing, although I would have it pretty low on my reading list. Ultimately Ehrman’s worst book and definitely not recommended.

My rating: 1 out of 5 stars

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Some Short Book Reviews

Posted by Scott Holstad on November 25, 2018

I have a ton of books to review, ideally as many as possible before the end of the year. And my health has been extremely bad, so it’s hard for me to find the time, energy or inspiration to write any. However, today I got a few knocked out, leaving me with just over 150 more (!), so I thought I’d post them all here in one blog post, as they’re all fairly short. Cheers!

 

Forged: Writing in the Name of GodForged: Writing in the Name of God by Bart D. Ehrman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I found this a fascinating book and really loved it. Much of it was new to me when I started, but for some reason, I set it aside for awhile while I read other books. And some of these other books went on to assert some of the same things I found Ehrman referring to when I later picked up the book to finish. That doesn’t diminish the research or quality of the material, but it does mean some of it isn’t as “original” as I had previously thought, which is the reason I’ve knocked it down from five stars to four. Still, if you want to learn the “real” story of many of the books of the Bible, particularly the New Testament, when they were actually written, who did and did not actually author so many of the books, this is an excellent source. Definitely recommended.

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God Needs To Go: Why Christian Beliefs FailGod Needs To Go: Why Christian Beliefs Fail by J.D. Brucker

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This short book is decent, not bad, and makes good and legitimate points. The author’s sections include 1. The Absence of Eternity, 2. The Birth of Ignorance, 3. The Flawed Logic in Modern Miracles, 4. The Error in Faith-Based Morality, 5. The Myth of Intelligent Design, 6. The Imaginary End, and 7. My Fall from “Grace.”

While I enjoyed reading it, however, I couldn’t help but think that these are largely issues that have already been addressed, mostly in more detail, depth, and intellectual mastery, by other authors out there, so aside from my feeling good about seeing another (reader-friendly) atheistic book on the market, I don’t feel like it truly contributes too much, certainly little new. Thus, while again I enjoyed it, I can’t help but view it as an average book, and am thus giving it three stars. If you have not yet read Barker, Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris, and some of the others, this may be a good intro, but I would quickly move on to the meatier resources out there. Cautiously recommended.

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The Templars: The Secret History RevealedThe Templars: The Secret History Revealed by Barbara Frale

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s hard for me to decide what I think about this book. For virtually my entire life, I’ve heard and read rumors, stories, and myths about the mysterious Knights Templar, and most people know about the Holy Grail and have heard stories that the organization continues to secretly exist to the present day. When I got this book, I wasn’t exactly looking for or expecting to find these stories were justified. However, while I admittedly did enjoy learning about how the Templars were founded, and for what reasons, and the qualities one had to have and the sacrifices one had to make in order to become one, this book then quickly turned into basically a dry textbook of history, places, several events, politics, culminating in a very disappointing (for me) end to what had been an admirable organization, complete with confessions tortured out of the Templars who had been arrested due to political BS between the King of France and the Pope. It was further disappointing to learn that at least some of the confessions were true, as in the Templars’ secret initiation rites, which I cannot believe were original, had degraded into something undeserving of the name and purpose of the organization, and personal requirements and standards had been lowered to recruit new members, thus making for a lack of morals in some that would have probably gotten an original Templar killed by his fellows. It was also disappointing to learn of such a once-splendid organization’s demise, and as the primary author was granted access to the “secret” Vatican files, it’s highly likely that the reports of its termination as an organization are and were indeed true, thus destroying my youthful fantasies of a super-secret organization existing over the centuries to the present, exercising power in all sorts of areas. Like I originally stated, I knew that was essentially a myth, but it was still disappointing to read the historical truth.

This is a well-researched, and professionally written history of a fascinating organization that was quite powerful for several hundred years and which still interests numerous people til this day. The writing gets fairly dry at times, even boring, but there’s enough good details and history in it to make it worth reading. I’d give this book a solid four stars and state that it’s recommended.

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Sid Gillman: Father of the Passing GameSid Gillman: Father of the Passing Game by Josh Katzowitz

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’ve always heard about Sid Gillman my whole life, and about how he “invented” football’s passing game. Yet when the great coaches are mentioned, he’s rarely, if ever, included. I’ve always wanted to know why, and I’ve always wanted to know some real details about him. Thus my excitement when I found this book some time back. I held on to it, like it was a treasure, waiting for the “right” moment to break it open and revel in its contents. So I finally did break it open, after waiting a very long time. And didn’t finish it. Because I didn’t enjoy it. I found it, and Gillman himself, tremendously disappointing. It was frankly a disillusioning read.

Gillman does indeed deserve credit for “inventing” the passing game, and he revolutionized the game of football forever. He quite possibly was an offensive genius. He was a lifelong workaholic. He tutored assistants who went on to amazing careers, like Don Shula and Chuck Noll. You could see elements of his game in the way they coached and won. So why isn’t Gillman typically included in discussions of the great coaches? Maybe it was because he never won a Super Bowl, which is a legitimate point, although he did a good deal of his coaching before Super Bowls existed. Maybe it’s also because he was a giant asshole of a person, unlikeable to almost anyone who ever met him. I hated him from about the 10th page on. And in terms of this book, I felt it was boring, redundant, didn’t exactly go to great lengths to argue for his greatness, although it made some efforts, and it kind of felt like the book went out of its way to ensure I’ll never include Gillman in a discussion of the greatest coaches, and nor will anyone else. I don’t know if that was the author’s intention – I tend to doubt it – but that’s what happened with me. I feel the book could have been a lot better, and possibly if a more experienced, more talented writer had been writing such a book, perhaps the outcome could have been different. However, the best I can do is give it two stars and state that I definitely do not recommend this book at all.

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Well, that’s all for now. I had hoped to do more today, but I feel terrible and I’m glad I got to do any at all. However, some of the ones I have lined up are on Japan at the end of WW II, religion, theism, the NSA, changing American military power and foreign policy, nuclear weapons, Biblical archaeology and how much of the Bible it supports as well as shows to be false, atheism, hockey, the history of Rome, the current and future status of the US and China, spies, American classism, the spread of theistic religions, Sparta, nuclear politics, think tanks, and much more. I hope to get to as many of these as I can. Please bear with me and be patient, and thanks for reading what I put down here. I truly appreciate it. Cheers!

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A Review of Paul: The Mind of the Apostle

Posted by Scott Holstad on January 19, 2014

Paul: The Mind of the ApostlePaul: The Mind of the Apostle by A.N. Wilson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I FINALLY finished this book! It took me forever because it’s fairly dry and the content doesn’t interest me as much as that in some other books. Still, this was a fairly interesting book to read. The author is apparently an agnostic or atheist and ensures one understands he believed Jesus was a Jew with no intention of starting a religion, and undoubtedly not the son of God or God himself. If you’re a Christian and you can get past that, you’re good to go. This book presents Paul as THE founder of Christianity and THE individual responsible for asserting Jesus was the Messiah, gone to glory in the clouds, and returning again some day — soon. The author asserts Paul thought Jesus was returning in a matter of months or years, thus the urgency in some of his letters.

When I read nonfiction books, I don’t underline passages — I turn over page corners so I can go back and catch important portions of the text. Normally I will have turned over 10-20 pages in a typical nonfiction book. In this book, I must have turned over 50 pages or more. I often quote from these passages, but I obviously can’t do that here — I don’t have the time or inclination.

Wilson asserts that Paul was a traveling tent maker and that’s how he supported himself, along with donations. He also calls into question whether Paul was a one time Pharisee or not. He alludes to Paul’s potential homosexuality, in his nonstop efforts to force sexual morality on people and in his almost loving letters to Timothy and other men who were his followers. Yes, sacrilege, I know. Still, interesting stuff. Wilson writes,

“Old-fashioned liberal Protestants detected in the Gospels the seeds of modern feminism — Talitha cumi, Damsel arise, became the motto of Victorian Christian feminists. The Jesus of the Gospels outraged Jewish opinion by speaking to the woman at the well of Samaria, and by offering forgiveness to the prostitute who, though she had sinned much, had also loved much. Impossible, says such wisdom, to imagine the misogynist puritanical Paul extending such forgiveness, nor being so much at ease with the opposite sex.”

We also get in-depth details on Paul’s travels here and their context, which I found really helpful. You also get a history lesson on Rome, at the time, and the state of the Jews. Wilson additionally delves into other religions and gleefully admits to Paul having stolen some traditions from paganism for Christianity.

Wilson is pretty hard on Luke and his book of Acts. He asserts much of it is contradictory to Paul’s own writings and probably made up. And his arguments, which I can’t paraphrase here, are good. (I didn’t know Luke was a Gentile.) Wilson also deals with Paul’s intent focus on evangelizing and converting Gentiles, something he argues Peter and James were opposed to. Of Luke, the author writes,

“By the time Luke writes up the story, perhaps twenty years or more later, it must be obvious that the Lord has not come and that all Paul’s immediate prophesies and predictions about the nature of the world and God’s purpose for it, have been not just slightly off beam, not open to interpretation, but plumb wrong. Christianity — not a word which Paul ever used — will have to sort out the contradictions of all that. It it Luke’s dull task to smooth over the cracks and hide the glaring discrepancies in his story, and to persuade ‘dear Theophilus’, some Roman magistrate or bigwig, that the Christians are safe, good citizens. As Paul’s last visit to Jerusalem shows, he was none of these things.”

Wilson deals with Paul’s end, which we don’t know, and for that he takes umbrage. He asserts that Paul could have been acquitted by Nero or some other Roman official, he could have been made a martyr, as many people believe, or — this is Wilson’s own belief — he could have been let go and traveled to Spain, starting churches, but dying in oblivion.

I’m going to end my review with Wilson’s final (and long) paragraph in the book, because I think it’s a good synthesis of what he is trying to accomplish in writing this book.

“It could be seen, then, that the essence of the Gospels, the thing which makes them so distinctive, and such powerful spiritual texts, namely the notion of a spiritual savior, at odds with his own kind and his own people, but whose death on the cross was a sacrifice for sin, is a wholly Pauline creation. The strange contrarieties which make the Jesus of the Gospels such a memorable figure — named his insistence on peace and kindness in all his more notably plausible of ‘authentic’ sayings, and his virulent abuse of Pharisees, his Mother, and the temple authorities on the other — could point less to a split personality in the actual historical Jesus, and more to the distinctive nature of Paul’s spiritual preoccupations a generation later. Even in this respect, therefore, Paul seems a more dominant figure in the New Testament tradition than Jesus himself. The Jesus of the Gospels, if not the creation of Paul, is in some sense the result of Paul. We can therefore say that if Paul had not existed it is very unlikely that we should have had any of the Gospels in their present form. The very word ‘gospel’, like the phrase ‘the New Testament’ itself, are ones which we first read in Paul’s writings. And though, as this book has shown, there were many individuals involved in the evolution of Christianity, the aspects which distinguish it from Judaism, and indeed make it incompatible with Judaism, are Paul’s unique contribution. It is for this reason that we can say that Paul, and not Jesus — was — if any one was — the ‘Founder of Christianity’.”

Interesting, thought provoking book. Recommended.

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A Review of Second Guessing God

Posted by Scott Holstad on February 16, 2013

Second Guessing God: Hanging on When You Can't See His PlanSecond Guessing God: Hanging on When You Can’t See His Plan by Brian W. Jones

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

When I picked this book up, I had high hopes for it. After all, according to the title it’s about hanging on when you don’t see God’s plan, and that’s always been an issue for me. I’ve rarely seen a plan. It looked like an interesting book. Another plus for it was that author and minister Brian McLaren endorsed it on the back cover, and I like and respect him immensely.

Jones starts with the following premise: “Why does God allow bad things to happen?” According to Goodreads, this book is Jones’s response to that question. However, I never quite got that. I think if that’s what he was trying to answer, he failed. He did try though. He uses the Israelites crossing the Jordan river from the desert to illustrate that “God is always at work upstream in our lives.” He writes, “Where’s God? Whenever we face a problem in our lives — sickness, job loss, depression, tragedy, or discouragement — God is at work upstream in those situations, beyond our line of sight.” Interesting, but I don’t know if I fully buy it and he doesn’t really go there too much more in the book. He talks about being broken — that “in order for me to notice people in pain and reach out to them with authenticity, I needed to go through a slow, painful process of transformation. It’s the same process he is taking you through.” Interesting. So everyone is broken and going through Godly transformations. I don’t know. He doesn’t argue convincingly for me. Jones later argues for compassion, saying “When we have Jesus’ heart, we see what he sees as if we’re borrowing his eyes.” It seems a bit too trite for me, frankly. I want more theological meat on the bones. But maybe this book is intended for a different target audience, I don’t know.

Jones writes a chapter about doubt. He remarks,

“Perhaps you have a question that is bothering you. Maybe something happened to you or someone you love, and there doesn’t seem to be any rational explanation for its occurrence. How do we resolve these kinds of questions? Honestly, most times we don’t. We live with the ambiguity. We wake up every day knowing full well that we carry around with us just as many questions as answers…. At the heart of a life filled with unanswered questions lies the very nature of Christianity…. Doubt reminds us of this.”

Doesn’t this passage acknowledge that he can’t answer the book’s questioning premise? No one has answers. Isn’t that what he’s saying? The author’s solution to doubt is to reach out to others. Seriously. I’m glad that works for him, but I don’t know that it’ll solve my issues for me….

In the Witness chapter, I come across some big problems that I really don’t like. It’s Hell. Jones didn’t think too much of Hell early in his life, but at some point came to the conclusion that Hell is real and that everyone who doesn’t accept Jesus into his life as their personal savior is damned to eternal Hell. He writes,

“I had always assumed that the Bible contained only a few scattered references to Hell. I was wrong; it is taught everywhere. Take the book of Matthew, for instance, just one book among twenty-seven in the entire New Testament…. Thirteen separate passages record Jesus’ teachings about the judgment of nonbelievers and their assignment to eternal punishment.”

He then throws out words to allegedly describe Hell in Matthew: fire, eternal fire, destruction, away from his presence, thrown outside, fiery furnace, darkness, eternal punishment, weeping and gnashing of teeth. OK. I don’t know why Brian McLaren endorsed this book because he doesn’t believe in Hell in the traditional sense of a fiery place of eternal conscious torment. He thinks that’s flat out wrong. So does Rob Bell, author of Love Wins, a book I’ve read three times and have found great relief and joy in. Bell argues that Hell isn’t mentioned in the Bible 13 TIMES alone, let alone in one book, if I recall correctly. He covers every instance of Hell in his book. These loaded words that Jones throws out refer to the always burning garbage pit outside Jerusalem, if you go by the original Greek, according to McLaren and Bell. Also, words like “destruction,” “thrown outside,” “darkness,” etc, hardly convey images of the traditional Christian Hell. I grew up in a Hellfire and brimstone environment, a strong Calvinist upbringing where practically everyone who wasn’t a true Calvinist was destined for Hell. That, among other things, turned me off to God and Christianity for 20 years. I truly don’t know if there’s a Hell or not, but I think McLaren and Bell do a much better job of arguing their case than Jones does here. Very weak, and disappointing. He lost me as a reader in this section.

Anyway, Jones ends his book by talking about the importance of attending church (and most likely tithing the heck out of yourselves, since he is a minister), and he strangely argues that you should attend the SAME church for the rest of your lives. You shouldn’t church shop. His final words are “That ‘perfect church’ you’re looking for already exists. You attended it last Sunday.” SERIOUSLY??? What if the church you attended was Westboro Baptist? What if it’s a crazy church, filled with nutjobs? What if you don’t feel comfortable there and you do want to attend multiple churches? Is that a crime? Is it a sin? I can’t believe how much importance Jones places on this. I’ve never read this anywhere else. It’s bizarre.

Throughout the book, Jones interjects his own thoughts into various situations from his entire life, and I got the feeling that this book was his form of self therapy. That he was trying to work through things in his life and this is what came of it. I thought it was a book that didn’t answer a hard question and provided some misguided notions and advice, and I think it’s really a failure overall. Certainly not recommended.

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A Review of Jesus Was a Liberal

Posted by Scott Holstad on January 21, 2013

Jesus Was a Liberal: Reclaiming Christianity for AllJesus Was a Liberal: Reclaiming Christianity for All by Scotty McLennan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is interesting. Scotty McLennan doesn’t actually argue very vehemently that the historical Jesus was truly a liberal, but that a liberal political and spiritual ideology can be compatible with Christianity. So, that being said, the title’s a bit misleading. McLennan makes a great case for liberal Christianity in this book, but I think he kind of fails to convince me that Jesus himself was liberal. At least, he doesn’t spend much time on that argument, instead choosing to press the case for liberal Christianity. Once you can get past that, and I found it a bit disappointing, it’s a rather good book and a stimulating read.

First of all, I come from a strong evangelical background that I’ve recently rejected, having found happiness in a mainline church where I live. It comes closest to preaching what I’ve come to believe, and I’m very anti-evangelical, truth be told. I think evangelicals are largely judgmental, intolerant, mean spirited, Republican, haters who are doing a world of evil in this country. I know that might surprise some people, but that’s honestly how I feel after being indoctrinated for the past 45 years. I’m repelled by evangelicalism.

So McLennan immediately identifies the principles of liberal Christianity to start the book. These include

“The Bible is meant to be read largely metaphorically and allegorically, rather than literally. Science and religion are compatible; we are committed to the use of logic, reason, and the scientific method. Doubt is the handmaiden of faith. Love is the primary Christian value, and it is directly related to the promotion of liberty and justice in society at large. All people are inherently equal and worthy of dignity and respect. Free religious expression should be governmentally protected, but no particular tradition should be established as the state religion. There are many roads to the top of the spiritual mountain, and Christianity is only one of them. Interfaith understanding and tolerance are critical. We see Jesus primarily as a spiritual and ethical teacher and less as being identical with God. Living a fulfilled and ethical life here and now is more important than speculating on what happens to us after we die. Nonviolence is strongly preferred in relationships between human beings, groups, and nations. Women and men must play an equal role in religious leadership. And in terms of current American hot-button issues, we tend to be pro-choice on abortion and in favor of marriages for same-sex couples.”

Wow! That’s a lot to swallow at once. And I don’t necessarily agree with all of these principles. For instance, the statement, “There are many roads to the top of the spiritual mountain, and Christianity is only one of them,” goes against my ingrained teaching, although I like it in theory. So too the part about Jesus being an ethical teacher and not identical with God. In my tradition growing up, Jesus was part of the triune God, one and the same. It’s hard for me to shake that. This said, these principles are largely what I’ve come to believe over the past several years and I’m elated to see them in print and elated to know I’m not the only one who sees things this way.

McLennan dives right into the concept of Jesus as God on page nine.

“Although Jesus during his lifetime on earth would never have recognized certain titles later applied to him – ‘coequal with God,’ ‘of one substance with God,’ ‘ the second person of the Trinity’ – the early church began developing these ideas about him soon after death. There’s no doubt that his followers after his death moved from considering him a spirit person or mystic to increasingly speaking of him as having qualities of God and then as being divine himself…. Yet, personally, I don’t believe that Jesus was or is identical with God, nor do I think that’s what he believed either, based on the biblical evidence.”

He certainly puts it out there. Since I was taught from day one that Jesus is God, it’s hard for me to accept this from a minister and dean of religious life at Stanford University, but there you have it. Accept it or reject it, it’s out in the open.

He moves on to abortion.

“’There has always been strong support for the view that [human] life does not begin until live birth. This was the belief of the Stoics, It appears to be the predominant … attitude of the Jewish faith. It may be taken to represent … a large segment of the Protestant community.’… I’m personally part of that large Protestant community that believes that human life and personhood begin at birth [and not conception]…. I’m also personally compelled by the notion that it’s the breath of life that makes us full human beings.”

I know for a fact this is what Jews believe, as I was married to one for a number of years. I was taught early on that life begins at birth, so therefore abortion is allowed by the religious community. That may seem shocking to most evangelicals, but there are scriptural references Jews use to support this (which I don’t have at hand at the moment). My primary complaint about this section is McLennan doesn’t really tie this topic into Jesus’s personal beliefs on the subject, or his proposed beliefs. And isn’t that what this book is supposed to be about?

McLennan moves on to another hot-button issue – women’s roles in the church. Most evangelicals are opposed to having women in leadership positions within the church. This was my own experience growing up. McLennan believes differently:

“A careful reading of Paul’s letters makes it clear that women were among the most eminent leaders in the early Christian church. They were missionaries, teachers, worship leaders, preachers, and prophets.”

McLennan notes Paul as citing Prisca or Priscilla as co-worker, Apphia as sister, Phoebe as deacon, and Junia as apostle. Further, in Romans, Paul commends Mary, Tryphaena, Tryphosa, and Persis for having “worked hard” in the Lord. I was never taught this growing up. I wonder why. Why is the Bible such a patriarchal document and why are women feared by Christian men so very much? These comments from Paul seem to recommend women for church leadership positions. McLennan does address Paul’s famous admonition of women in Corinthians about women being silent in church and ties it into first century social propriety. It makes sense.

The author then goes on to address whether the Bible in the “inspired” word of God, something I was brought up to believe without giving it much thought at all. It was an accepted “truth.” McLennan cites NT Wright as writing that some people (evangelicals) assuming the Bible was inspired as “an act of pure ‘supernatural’ intervention, bypassing the minds of the [biblical] writers altogether. This would suggest that God either dictated the Bible word by word or was ‘zapping’ the writers with some kind of long-range linguistic thunderbolt.” He then discusses literal versus metaphorical readings of the Bible and makes a case for metaphorical, citing Wright’s not thinking the resurrection is “the Bible is speaking of a resuscitated corpse.” He shows cases of instances in the Bible that can’t be taken literally (Egypt is a broken reed of a staff, etc.) and ends the section by writing that “To speak of the ‘authority of the Bible’ is to refer to ‘the authority of a love story in which we are invited to take part’.”

Several pages later, he furthers his argument by stating the the Bible is a human product – “not ‘God’s revealed truth’ but a response of these two ancient communities [Israel and early Christians] to God that describes what they think is required of them ethically by God, how God has entered and influenced their lives, what kinds of prayers, praises, and practices are the most appropriate way to honor and worship God, and their hopes and dreams as a people of God.”

At this stage of the book, I’m intrigued by his arguments and persuaded by some of them, but am left wondering where Jesus enters into all of this. He’s not even trying to prove Jesus was a liberal, merely that Christianity can be. Oh well.

Later in the book, McLennan takes on people who accept what they’re taught in the church by blind faith. He quotes Daniel Dennett as being

“deeply bothered … by people who unapologetically take things on blind faith, without subjecting them to logical, scientific, and historical confirmation. He observes that ‘blind faith secures its own perpetuation by the simple unconscious expedient of discouraging ration inquiry,’ thereby rendering the ideal of truth-seeking and truth-telling its victim.”

Moreover, “Religion is the most prolific source of the ‘moral certainties’ and ‘absolutes’ that zealots depend on. Throughout the world, ‘people are dying and killing’ in the name of blind faith and unapologetic irrationality.”

On the issue of separation of church and state, McLennan finally gets around to Jesus: “Jesus in effect says ‘yes’ – separate church and state.” He uses the passage on rendering unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s. He then goes into describing life in the former Iron Curtain as an example of no separation of church and state, with the communists having an official religion that was heavily guarded in what it could teach.

Many liberal Christians have problems with the concept of the Trinity – three gods in one. McLennan begins the section by asking, “What’s the meaning of the Trinity?” He goes on to provide analogies of how it can be viewed realistically. One such is

“to think of the transcendent God of the universe (out there as the creator of all we knew in nature), the God who walks by our side in human form – both rejoicing and suffering along with us (having known suffering in the extreme of crucifixion) – and the God who is deep within our own souls but also working as the force that ties us together in community with each other. This is one God, but one who can feel quite different in an operational sense….”

Those of you who are familiar with tradition Protestant Christianity – fundamentalism, evangelicalism – know of the topic of being “born again.” One can’t escape it in our Christian culture. Indeed, our presidential candidates must profess to being “born again” if they’re going to get Red State votes. It’s so prevalent, that conservative Christians feel that those who have not been born again aren’t Christians and are destined for Hell. Yet many liberal Christians don’t believe in this concept. McLennan writes that “baptism is not fully effected until one believes, until one actually lays hold by faith of what God has mercifully granted us through the gift of his son, Jesus Christ,” as being the primary belief system for conservatives, and yet it’s been my experience in a mainline church community that the holy sacrament of baptism is the sign one is “saved,” and that one needn’t go, and doesn’t go, through a “being saved” one time experience in order to go to Heaven. Indeed, McLennan writes that one must be “born of water and Spirit.” Further,

“In the gospel of John, John uses another image for being born again: ‘The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’ Jesus’s offer of a new birth here is connected with wind. It doesn’t sound like something one can grab hold of by conscious intent. The proper attitude would seem to be more like gratitude for an undeserved gift, and a radical openness to the variety of ways it chooses to envelop and massage us.”

Later,

“So there’s being ‘born again’ in this Cheever story, with all the elements of deep, inward, radical change – baptismal water, wind blowing – worked by the Spirit in the inner recesses of the human personality – and of undeserved gifts of life and love, if only we can appreciate them. There’s no self-generated moral reformation. There’s no conscious repenting of one’s sin and turning to Christ. Just sudden regeneration, out of the blue, utterly transformative. It’s in that sense I hope for all of us the experience of being born again.”
McLennan acknowledges that “Easter is the great holiday of Christianity” due to the Resurrection. Then he goes on to ask, “But was the resurrection a flesh-and-blood photographable event? Most liberal Christians like me can’t possibly subscribe to this literalist claim. As I … read the gospel accounts, this was not a matter of a dead person coming back to his prior life of walking around, eating, drinking, and sleeping like the rest of us. Instead, what’s meant by resurrection is that Jesus was transformed into an entirely different level of being, beyond the usual categories of life and death…. [Witnesses seeing him] These are all visions or epiphanies or revelations of Jesus, not meetings with a resuscitated corpse.”

Wow. Heresy and treason to the people and traditions with which I was brought up. Still, it makes one wonder, does it not?

As you come to the close of the book, he addresses political liberalism and writes, “Liberals, often in the face of fierce conservative opposition, have been the ones to guarantee equal rights, and they have made laws that help keep our food and automobiles safe and college education affordable…. Liberal Christianity can point to the Old Testament prophets and to Jesus as the original political liberals.” Yet, somehow, I think, McLennan fails to make the case of Jesus as a liberal in this book. It’s rather ironic. He could have done so much more with this topic, written such a better book, although it’s good in its present form. He ends the book by writing, “Jesus came that we might have life, and have it abundantly. Jesus was a liberal.” I only wish McLennan had shown that Jesus was a liberal. Otherwise, a decent book….
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A Review of The Gospel of Judas

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 22, 2012

The Gospel of Judas: Critical EditionThe Gospel of Judas: Critical Edition by Rodolphe Kasser
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I have to confess I started this book out of sheer interest in the subject matter, but I couldn’t finish it — I just thought it was too silly to believe. Maybe I’ve got too much of the traditional four gospels ingrained within me, but for Judas to be portrayed as the favorite and best disciple of Jesus who only did what he was told by Jesus to do and was therefore a hero as he brought about the crucifixion and resurrection strikes me as totally absurd. Not to mention that it was hard to read with all of the missing text that was skipped over and omitted. That was distracting. I couldn’t buy the notion of Jesus appearing to his disciples in the form of a child. You’d think that would have been mentioned in another gospel. And here’s one thing that might seem trite, but it bugs me nonetheless — apparently this gospel was written in the second century. Well, who wrote it? It follows Judas for just a brief period of time up until his suicide, I believe. Well, if he killed himself, how did he communicate the secrets of this text to the ones who would ultimately write it? He was DEAD for Pete’s sake! Isn’t this just some second century made up gnostic tale by people wanting to stir things up? That’s ultimately what it strikes me as. So, yeah, I probably should have finished it and maybe one day I’ll return to it, but I just thought the premise(s) was too absurd to continue reading the book.

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A Review of The Underground Church

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 20, 2012

The Underground Church: Reclaiming the Subversive Way of JesusThe Underground Church: Reclaiming the Subversive Way of Jesus by Robin Meyers
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I really liked this book even though its idealistic vision is so utopian that its recommendations can surely never be acted upon by most Christians. It’s a heartfelt book with a vision — one of love and caring for all. I like that. Even though he separates himself from the emergent church group, there are some similarities. I’ve read other Meyers books though, and sometimes he comes across as really ticked off. In this book, he really tries to balance his insights and comments between conservative and liberals in the Christian church, although it does finally lean somewhat to the left. That’s fine with me.

In the book, he takes issue with war, calling it a sin many times over. I’m not certain if I buy that since the God I read about in the Old Testament seemed to love war, but maybe he’s right — I’m no expert. He also feels Christians should actually be conscientious objectors, environmentalists, and frankly, socialists. To back this last claim, he cites Acts 4:32-35, which says

“Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common…. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostle’s feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.”

Interesting. And thought provoking. And quite possibly dead on. Again, I’m no expert. Toward the end of the book, though, Meyers starts making some recommendations of what people in the “Underground Church” should and will do and it’s really overly idealistic. For instance, start up church-sponsored interest free banks. Developing private economic systems within the church. Have pre-church communion meals. All of this he marks as Biblical and it might be so, but I can’t see conservatives (or even some liberals) as going for any of this. Indeed, the book is an appealing read, but as to its practicality, I would say I don’t know of too many — if any — churches that would follow through and become an Underground Church. It just isn’t going to happen in Protestant (evangelical) America. Which is a bit of a shame and shows you how off evangelicals are in general. When they should be concerned about feeding the poor, they — with their Republican politicians — are cutting food stamp programs even now as we speak. It’s truly appalling. Another book by Robin Meyers talks about how the right wing in this country is wrong, and it ties conservative politics to evangelicals and I think it’s a fair point, and as I grew up a strong Calvinist but have since moved on, I’m continually appalled by the Republicans and religious right’s polemics of hatred and greed. Prosperity gospel my ass!

If you get a chance and you’re remotely interested, you should read the book. It’s a well written, well intended, moderately well thought out book. It just won’t be taken seriously by conservatives or most Christians in general, and that’s a real shame.

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A Review of A Search for What Is Real

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 4, 2012

A Search for What Is RealA Search for What Is Real by Brian D. McLaren

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is intended to be a guide for those who are seeking something spiritually, no matter what faith, but yes, primarily Christianity. It’s a little light (especially for McLaren), but the contents are pretty solid and the book is quite accessible. Some of the chapters deal with experiencing God through doubt (a big one for me), why church is often the last place to look for spiritual guidance, why people don’t turn to Bibles in their spiritual search, losing interest, and more. One of the things McLaren writes in the doubt chapter really stood out for me:

“They say that the opposite of love isn’t hate; it is rather indifference. And I have to think that the same is true of faith. Doubt isn’t a spiritual danger sign nearly as much as indifference would be.”

In the final chapter, McLaren writes that Jesus was “scandalously inclusive” and that

“In a world of religious in-groups and out-groups, Jesus created a ‘come on in’ group. The kingdom of God is open to everyone who will come…. It’s like a party to which everyone is invited, rich or poor, employed or unemployed, clear or dirty.”

That section of the book really stood out for me because when I was growing up, the various youth groups in school and church “rushed” (like the fraternity allusion?) the popular kids with the alleged goal of the unpopular kids following the popular kids to God. Yeah, right. It was a total joke. I rode the fence between popular and unpopular and I didn’t like it. As an adult, many churches I’ve been to seem little different. We want the “beautiful people” — those in real need don’t need to come on in. I hate that about mainstream Christianity. Jesus was all about love and inclusive love. In fact, he hung out with hookers and outcasts and told the Moral Majority of his day that the scumbags he was with would have an easier time of entering heaven than they would. (That didn’t go over too well with them.) So, I like what McLaren writes here. I just wish more actual church people would read and realize this….

The book’s chapters all end with interesting discussion questions and a suggested prayer. McLaren tries to stick to guidance, not to telling — as in, he’s not the authority on this, God is. It’s not the best book I’ve read, and it’s not for everyone, but I found it worthwhile and others will too.

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A Review of Searching for God Knows What

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 2, 2012

Searching for God Knows WhatSearching for God Knows What by Donald Miller

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m not a fan of Miller’s Blue Like Jazz. I think it’s an immature book written by an immature writer. This book — Searching for God Knows What — seems a vast improvement to me, albeit still with the same scatter shot, rambling topical approach to the book. I’ve got to admit to being annoyed with Miller’s writing style. It’s certainly not linear, and perhaps I like linear a bit too much, but Miller jumps all over the place. Sometimes I think each chapter of his could stand on its own, as they don’t seem to have all that much in common with each other.

However, I wanted to like this book. I was disappointed, then, to feel like it started out like Blue Like Jazz. At some point, though, Miller seemed to tighten things up a bit. A more lucid, more mature style of writing emerged that I occasionally found gripping. The final pages I found to be quite good, actually. For instance,

“I can’t tell you how many times I have seen an evangelical leader on television talking about this “culture war,” about how we are being threatened by persons with an immoral agenda, and I can’t tell you how many sermons I have heard in which immoral pop stars or athletes or politicians have been denounced because of their shortcomings. Rarely, however, have I heard any of these ideas connected with the dominant message of Christ, a message of grace and forgiveness and a call to repentance. Rather, the moral message I have heard is often a message of bitterness and anger because “our” morality, “our” culture, is being taken over by people who disregard “our” ethical standards. None of it was connected, relationally, to God at all.” (page 185)

How true. I can relate to Miller here so very much. The bitterness and anger preached from America’s pulpits can be overwhelming and, in my opinion, have very little to do with the message of Jesus. Another passage:

“A moral message, a message of “us” versus “them,” overflowing in war rhetoric, never hindered the early message of grace, of repentance toward dead works and immorality in exchange for a love relationship with Christ. War rhetoric against people is not the methodology, not the sort of communication that came out of the mouth of Jesus or the mouths of any of His followers. In fact, even today, moralists who use war rhetoric will speak of right and wrong, and even some vague and angry god, but never Jesus.” (page 190)

Again, so true. I recently became disenchanted with the minister at the church I occasionally attend when he started politicizing his sermons. He had already been slamming pastors like Rob Bell and preaching fire and brimstone messages on Easter while criticizing those who preached rebirth and renewal. Frankly, the only reason I go there at all is to occasionally make my parents happy. I can do without ministers like that one. Why so much hatred in the pulpit, in the churches?

I guess my final thought on the book is that it’s worth a (quick) read, but don’t expect too much. It’s more solid than some of his other works, but it’s not earth shattering. The only reason I give this three stars instead of two is his solid ending to the book.

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