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Elgin’s Books


  • Christianity and Secularism

  • Evidence for the Bible
  • Archive for the 'Zeitgeist' Category

    Zeitgeist – The Responses II

    Friday, November 16th, 2007 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    Nov 16, 2007, Wausau, Wi — Interest and discussion concerning Zeitgeist, The Movie and my three part review continues to grow, so this week I thought I would address a point that recently came up in a couple of relies to my review. These replies started out by agreeing with my review. One began, “this movie is based on incorrect facts.” Another said, “I am a Christian and I realize Zeitgeist part one was a complete total lie.”

    But after agreeing, they went on to claim other grand conspiracies. The first writer went on to claim that while Zeitgeist was based on incorrect facts, the same could be said for the Bible, and religion was simply a means to control the masses and enslave them. The other writer said, “I believe the rest of the movie is true and that the US government had everything to do with [911]” and that “most Christians now believe 911 was an inside job, Satan is in control of our government.”

    Both of these replies demonstrate in their own way the persistence of these grand conspiracy theories. Part of this is simply the flawed and often dishonest way in which they presented. We have a general, and somewhat necessary, view that people are honest. Even people who claim not to trust anyone still do a lot of trusting in their day to day lives. So when we hear someone telling something, there is a tendency to accept it unless we have a reason not to.

    For example, one of the reasons the Christian writer gave that Parts II and III of Zeitgeist should believed even though part one was flawed is that there is a “video of Larry Silverstein admitting he demoed building 7.” Now a video of the building’s owner admitting that he was the one responsible for bringing down the building, rather than the terrorist would be pretty powerful evidence. But the actual situation is a good example of how these grand conspiracy theories work.

    Now there is video of the owner, but what he says is “pull it.” The conspiracy theorists claim “pull it” is jargon which refers to bringing down a building by explosives, and thus their claim that the owner ordered the building brought down. So even when those who do check out this claim see the video, they will see just what the theorist have led them to see, Silverstein given the command to “pull it.” While this is conclusive evidence for the conspiracy theorists, and at first blush seems at least plausible, the problem is that there are other, and better, understandings of Silverstein’s statement.

    Frankly given that he was talking to the Fire Department commander and his stated purpose in the video was to not to risk further loss of life, I find Silverstein’s own explanation that this referred to stopping the effort to put out the fires to be far more likely. After all if the building were to be demolished by explosives, it is extremely unlikely that the NYFD would have been in on any such conspiracy, given the number of firefighters who heroically gave their lives that day.

    This is just one piece of evidence, and conspiracy theories are built upon a seaming endless stream of such claims. When people do take the time to refute them, they are often simply rejected, a part of the conspiracy. Thus when I pointed out some of  refutations of the 911 conspiracy to the Christian writer defending them I was told that they were done by organizations that were “all run by a secret society called FREE MASONS.” Not only do these theory slant evidence to support them, they have a built in way of rejecting any evidence against them as part of the conspiracy.

    Paul tells us that in the last days, people “will gather around them a great number of teachers, to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” (2 tim 4:3-4)

    There is a very simply principle, that truth cannot be grounded in error. As we try to reach the world with the truth of the Gospel, we must be doubly careful not mix it with error. This is not a new problem. There is always a great temptation to having secret knowledge, to know what others do not; to be in on the secret. During the time of the early church, this desire expressed itself in the form of Gnosticism, a religious movement based on secret knowledge that competed with Christianity in the second century.

    The conspiracy theorists of today are the modern Gnostics. Laura Curtis summarized this nicely in her blog Suspending Disbelief, when she wrote “Like Gnostics, they are the Chosen Ones, privy to information the rest of us can’t comprehend. They’re special. Part of an elite few. We can’t handle the truth! They are the messiah, here to save us from our own dangerous ignorance.”

    One of the worst aspects of these conspiracy theories is that there is real evil in the world and these theories only divert our attention away from it. One does not need to be a Bush supporter to believe that Islamic terrorism is both real and evil. It existed long before Bush, and will exist long after he is out of office.

    As Paul said, “test everything. Hold on to the good.” (1 Thess 5:21-22)

    This is Elgin Hushbeck, asking you to Consider Christianity: a Faith Based on Fact.

    Zeitgeist – The Response

    Friday, August 24th, 2007 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    August 24, 2007, Wausau, Wi — This week I thought I would address some of the responses to Zeitgeist, The Movie and my review.  Perhaps the one of the most absurd attempts to defend the movie was the claim that you cannot invalidate the claims in Zeitgeist, without first validating the claims made in the New Testament.

    The irrationally of this statement is easily seen by simply turning it around.  One could just as easily, and in fact given the actual evidence, more easily, claim that one could not invalidate of the historical claims made in the NT without first validating the claims in Zeitgeist, which given the errors shown in my review of the movie,  would be impossible. While I believe the claims in the NT are historically accurate, I would never make such an argument, because is it irrational on its face.Some messages took objection to my claim that the December 25th date was not biblical but a later tradition and therefore those parts of the movie based on this date were invalid.  These objections took two main forms.  One was to claim that there is no proof December 25th was a later tradition.  This of course ignores the statements in Luke that points to the spring as the time for Jesus birth.  But it also reveals a common line of argument with such claims which is to point to anything that can be seen as supporting them as valid evidence, while everything that conflicts is simply ignored.

    The other approach was to claim that the Church did set the December 25th date, even if it was later, and that this shows the claims in the movie are correct.   There are two problems with this argument either one of which would be fatal. The first is that the movie claims that the beliefs of Christianity derived from date. But how could this be true if the connection was only made hundreds of years later?  The other problem is that when the connection was made, it was not to commemorate the date, but to use the celebration of Christmas, to replace the pagan celebrations that occurred on this date. So no matter how you look at it the movie’s claim that Christian belief derived from the winter solstice simply wrong.

    A more general defense was found in a number of messages, which was even if some of the details of the movie were incorrect, the main message of the movie that religion basically is just a means of control, was correct.  In fact it was commonly called the most powerful form of control that exists.

    Such arguments have a number of problems.  If the purpose of religion is to control, then how, by whom and for what purpose? This might make sense when dealing with a religion that has a clear hierarchical power structure, but not all religions have such a structure. In fact, one of the problems with Islam is that it lacks any formal power structure that could control its radical extremes.Many Protestants churches have a very democratic power structure (which was historically an important factor in the emergence of democracy in Europe and the US.) How does “control” fit as a purpose for these groups? Applied to specific groups and individuals, “control” might be an explanation, but as a blanket explanation, it fails miserably.But even if true, religion is hardly the main means of control. Government is far more powerful and invasive. More importantly, while religion is often, and should always be, voluntary, government, by its nature is not. Just look at the massive amount of control Government has over our lives in the US, and we are classified as a “free” society. Consider the amounts of control totalitarian governments have over the day to day lives of their citizens. So government is much more a source of control.In fact one of the benefits of religion is that it can provide a check and balance on government, sort of like the separation of powers set up in the Constitution. In fact this was why the founding fathers viewed religion as so important, yet independent of government, for it could provide a check on government.The real danger occurs when government becomes completely dominated by any single group so as to use it power to suppress and restrict competing groups for then the ability for checks and balances disappears. In European history, Christianity was at times too closely allied with, and in some cases was, the government. That was a problem. Today the danger lies with secularism, which has come to dominate government, and is using its power to restricting the influence of religion. Completely remove the influence of religion and you remove any ability it has to check the control of government.

    To see this just look at the last century where you had a declining influence of religion in America you had a corresponding increase in the growth of government, and a corresponding decrease in freedom. Sure we now have much more freedom to use certain words formally considered vulgar, but in exchange we now have speech codes on what opinions and thoughts are acceptable. Express a politically incorrect opinion, however true it may be, and you can be sent to sensitive training, or even lose your job. (In Europe, which even more secular, you can go to jail). So in 21st century America, I fear Big Government much more than Big Religion.  And it is not coincidence that those who seek to limit religion the most, also seek to expand government the most.

    This is Elgin Hushbeck, asking you to Consider Christianity: a Faith Based on Fact.  

    Review: Part I     Part II     Part III      Responses II  

    A Review of Zeitgeist, The Movie Part III

    Friday, July 27th, 2007 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    July 27, 2007, Wausau, Wi  In the first two parts of my review of Part I of Zeitgeist, The Movie I showed how the movie’s faulty and at times dishonest use of the evidence is behind their false claims.  Towards the end of this part, the movie turns to more standard, though none the less false, attacks on Christianity.

    This section opens with an unidentified and unseen speaker ridiculing Christian beliefs about creation and a supposed attempt at defending it.  Even if this unidentified speaker’s depiction is accurate, it simply does not follow logically that there is no support, or that Christian beliefs are false.   Whether this part of the movie commits the fallacy of a strawman argument or the fallacy of hasty generalization, it remains fallacious.

    The movie then returns to parallels once again, trying to link Jesus and Joseph.  Again this reveals the problems with such parallels. The movie claims that both Jesus and Joseph had a “Miracle Birth.” That Jesus was born of a virgin certainly qualifies as a miracle, but Joseph was born to Jacob “in his old age.”  Yet these are treated as if they were the same.  Then there is the stretch that “‘Judas’ suggests sale” to try and make the parallel line up.

    From there the movie, attempts to claim that Jesus did not exist.  Again while a popular claim during the 19th and early 20th centuries it has now been pretty much refuted.  Even Michael Martin, a recent supporter of this view admits that this view “is highly controversial and not widely accepted.”  A huge problem is that none of the early opponents of Christianity ever made this argument.  As I point out in my book, Christianity and Secularism, after reviewing what the early critics say, “what we see with many of these non-Christian sources is an acceptance of the claims of Christianity, with attempts to provide alternative explanations.” 

    Even the discussion of Josephus is simplified and distorted. The movie claims “it has been proven to be a forgery for hundreds of years.” The problem is that Josephus has two references to Christ; the first pretty clearly has been changed by Christians because it is too pro-Christian to have been written by a Jew.  Yet the other passage refers to Jesus in a derogatory way and it would not have been written by a Christian.   So it appears that while Christians did change the first passage, it was a change and not a complete insertion, and thus Josephus did make some reference to Jesus.

    After another nameless faceless voice calling Christianity a “Roman story,” the movie begins to make one false claim after another about the history of Christianity. It start with the standard conspiratorial line that the council of Nicaea established the Christian doctrines as a means of social control.  Again, as I describe in Christianity and Secularism “the Council of Nicaea did not create any new doctrines, but merely reaffirmed old doctrines as the official position of the church.”  This is not a simply a matter of belief or conjecture. All one has to do is read the early church fathers who wrote long before the councils to see this.

    From this falsehood, the movie then makes the absurd claim that “for 1600 years the Vatican maintain a political strangle hold on all of Europe.”   There are many problems here. For one, at the time of the council of Nicaea, the Roman Bishops had not yet really claimed a primacy for themselves, and it would be hundreds of years before the office of Pope came to resemble what it does today.  So to talk of a Vatican stranglehold this early is silly.  In fact it is not until 1054 AD that you really get the Roman Catholic Church when it split with the Eastern Church.  Another problem is that 1600 year after 325 AD would be 1925.  But just how did “the Vatican maintain a political strangle hold on all of Europe” when you had the Reformation? Or what about the Avignon Captivity where the Kings of France so dominated the Church that the popes move had to Avignon for 70 years.  The simple fact is that the movie’s history is not just simplistic, it is wrong.  Things were much more complex than the movie implies.

    Nor do the errors end there, for the movie begins to recite a list of crimes of the Church: the Dark Ages, the Crusades, and the Inquisition.  Space here does not permit a complete discussion of these myth and distortions, which are discussed in my books. But for example, historians have long since realized that the Dark Ages never happen but this was a pejorative label and false view of history from those in the ‘enlightenment.’  This period, which is now more correctly called the Middle Ages, was actually a dynamic and complex intermingling of three forces, the failing Roman society, the invading barbarian society, and Christianity; all trying to recover civilization following the collapse of Rome.  So to claim that the Christianity brought on the Dark Ages is simply historically false. Likewise with the crusades, and even the inquisition, things are not quite so simplistic as the movie implies. This is not to commit the opposite error of the movie and say that everything the church did was good.  It wasn’t and great evil has been done by Christians over the centuries. But if you look at both the positives and the negatives, the church has on the whole been a strong force for good.

    In summary, the movie is in the end little more that a series of falsehoods, distortions and faulty reasoning.  It does not even hold up to a cursory examination much less a detailed one, and none of it claims can be supported.

    This is Elgin Hushbeck, asking you to Consider Christianity: a Faith Based on Fact.

    Note:  Part II of the movie deals with how 9/11 was supposedly planned and executed by the US government, while Part III deals with how the Federal Reserve Bank is part of a conspiracy for one world government.  Since these parts do not deal with Christianity, I will leave it for others to handle the errors in these parts.

    Part I     Part II   Responses I   Responses II 

    A Review of Zeitgeist, The Movie Part II

    Friday, July 20th, 2007 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    July 20, 2007, Wausau, Wi  Last time I looked at the problems with many of the parallels claimed in Zeitgeist, The Movie, such as the movie’s attempt to link the Bible to astrological ages.   Another example would be the claim that “when Jesus is asked by his disciples where the next Passover will be after he is gone, Jesus replies.  Behold, when ye are entered into the city, there shall a man meet you bearing a pitcher of water; follow him into the house where he entereth in.” (Luke 22:10) The movie claims the man bearing a pitcher of water symbolizes the Age of Aquarius which will begin in 2150 AD.  “This scripture”   the movie claims “is by far one of the most revealing of the astrological references” for Jesus is saying “that after the age of Pisces will come the age of Aquarius.”  While I agree this is revealing, what it reveals is the dishonesty of the movie. 

    While Luke 22:10 is accurately quoted, the disciple’s question is not.  The movie makes Jesus’ answer refer to a time “after he is gone” to imply after the age of Pisces.  Yet the question the disciples asked was of far more immediate concern. Verses 7-9 set the context of Jesus’ answer in verse 10.  “(7)Then the day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread came, on which the Passover lamb was to be sacrificed. (8)So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, ‘Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover meal.’ (9)They asked him, “Where do you want us to prepare it?”  As is clearly seen in these verses, the movies’ claim that the disciples were asking about “where the next Passover will be after he is gone” is simply false, they were asking about where they would eat that night! 

    Even if this was not a problem,  the symbolism is wrong for as the movie describes it, Aquarius is “always pictured as a man pouring out a pitcher of water”  yet in the Biblical passage the man is not pouring out water, but carrying it. Now if this were merely a symbolic reference as the movie claims, what would be the reason for getting the symbolism wrong?  On the other hand, if the account were historical, then Jesus would say the man was carrying water if that was what he was actually doing.

    The movie passes on from there to talk about the end times saying “the cartoonish depictions in the book of Revelation aside, the main source of this idea comes from Matthew 28:20 where Jesus says ‘I will be with you even to the end of the world.”  The movie then makes a big deal of the word “world” being a mistranslation in the KJV “among many mistranslation” and that it should read as “age”.

    It is unclear why the makers of the film choose to use, and then correct, the KJV at this point as opposed to citing a version that does render this as age, unless they were simply looking to make a more general attack on the reliability of the Bible.  But regardless, there are far more serious problems with their overall claim. First notice how they dismiss Revelation as “cartoonish depictions.” The main problem is that Revelation did not fit the parallel they wish to find.  Again this is one of the problems with such parallel based argument for it ignores everything that does not fit and focuses only on the matches.

    Even more problematic is the use of Matthew 28, which the movie claims is the “main source” for our knowledge of the end times.  This will come as a great surprise to most people who have read the Bible, for this passage is normally referred to as the Great Commission.  Those looking for discussion of the end times would do far better in Matthew 24 and 2 Thessalonians 2, assuming of course they wanted to ‘set aside’ Revelations.  Again the depictions of the end times in these other passages don’t fit the parallel the makers of the movie wish to make, so they are ignored.

    Further problems plague the movie’s attempt to see Egypt as the primary foundation for Judaism and then later Christianity.  While again some parallels exist, the differences are even more pronounced.  In fact, a major question for secular scholars is where did Moses get the laws that he gave to the Jewish people (assuming of course one rejects that they came from God).  Some have suggested that he learned then from his father-in-law Jethro, a priest of Midian. The nice thing about this theory is that little is known about Jethro’s beliefs so there is little to conflict with the theory.   

    The movie further attempts to justify this claim by saying that the Ten Commandments were “taken outright form spell 125 in the Egyptian book of the Dead.”  But even in the video Spell 125 has over 40 “commandments” before it fade to the next shot.   Is it really that surprising that a moral code would contain prohibition against theft, murder, and lying?  Interestingly while the shots of spell 125 show certain commands highlighted, to give the impression that these are copied in the Ten Commandments, some of the highlighted passage are not in the Ten Commandments. For example,  “15) I have not laid waste to ploughed land” and “35) I have not cursed the king.”   Again only the things that match are counted while the differences are ignored.

    More next time.

    This is Elgin Hushbeck, asking  you to Consider Christianity: a Faith Based on Fact.  

    Part I     Part III    Responses I   Responses II  

    A Review of Zeitgeist, The Movie Part I

    Friday, July 13th, 2007 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    July 13, 2007, Wausau, Wi  Recently, a friend asked me to check out a web site that was asking for help addressing some of the claims made in an anti-Christian movie posted on the web.  After watching the first part of Zeitgeist, The Movie  the first thing that struck me, besides the obvious errors, was how dated the movie was.  Its main argument stems from pointing  out parallels between Christian beliefs and other belief systems with the conclusion, implied or blatant that there must therefore be a link.  Such reasoning was popular among skeptics in the first half of the 20th century and earlier, but as more serious work was done, such argument were discarded, particularly after Samuel Sandmel’s article Parallelamania in the 1960s. 

    The main flaw in such arguments is that they are selective and thus superficial.  They are selective in that they take only those things that match, and ignore differences. This leads them to be superficial in that the mere appearance of a parallel however weak is taken as a parallel.  The net result is that you can find meaning and significance where it does not exist. For example, consider the parallels that have been noted between the assassinations of Lincoln  and Kennedy.  The problem scholars found is that the more they looked for parallels the more they found them, even between things that clearly did not have any links.  Thus scholars long ago concluded that such parallels were pretty much meaningless.

    However a more serious problem occurs with the films choice of parallels.  Most of the first part of the film is linked in one way or another to Jesus being born on December 25th and how this links in with winter solstice celebrations.  The problem is that one thing pretty much all scholars agree on, skeptical and believers alike, is that Jesus was not born on December 25th. The NT describes the shepherds in the fields with their sheep at the time of Jesus’ birth (Luke 2:8) which would have been highly unlikely on December 25, and points more to the spring.  The reason we celebrate December 25th is because a couple of centuries after the birth of Christ the church set that date deliberately to replace the Winter solstice celebrations, so of course there is a parallel to the winter solstice, but not for the reasons implied in the film.  With this fact alone most of the first half of this part of the film falls apart.

    Another problematic parallel is the movies’ claim that the cross is actually an astrological cross, symbolic of the zodiac.  While again there may be a parallel here it is hardly meaningful, and in fact goes straight to the heart of the problem with such reasoning.  What the movie ignores is that there is a very good reason Christians use the symbol of the cross and it has nothing at all to do with astrology. Christians refer to the cross because Jesus was crucified on a cross. In short, the cross is a factor in Christianity because it was used in a Roman method of execution, not because of any astrological meaning.   Very much the same thing can be said about the movies claim that the crown of thorns represents sun rays.

    But even some of the movies parallels don’t quite work out. The movie tries to make the claim that the Bible is really an astrological text and the biblical term “age” refers to the astrological ages such as Tarsus, Aries, Pisces, and Aquarius.  The movie makes a point that Jesus was born at just about the time of the beginning of the Age of Pisces (1 AD – 2150 AD). But it also claims that Moses “represents the new age of Aries” and that the reason he broke the tables was because the Jews were worshiping a bull, the symbol of Taurus the previous age. They were in the age of Aries and that is why Jews blow the rams horn. 

    The idea that Jews use the rams horn because they raised sheep and the horn could be made into a instrument is not really considered. But a more serious problem is that the movie lists the Age of Aries as 2150BC to 1 AD.  But even the earliest dates given by scholars for the Exodus, the mid 15th century BC, is over 650 years after the age began.  But no problem Moses was in the age and that is close enough.

    Similar problems arise with the claim that Jesus represents the sign of Pisces whose symbol is 2 fish.  Predictably the movie points to the miracle of the feeding of the 5000 thousand. Yet interestingly while they show the text “we only have five loaves of bread and 2 Fish – Matt 14:17” the narrator says “Jesus feeds five thousand people with bread and two fish.”   Note the number of loaves of bread is not mentioned by the narrator, while in the text five is spelled out, but not two.  Why?  The simple reason is that the fish make the parallel they seek, while the bread does not.  Wouldn’t a better explanation for the two fish be that, fish were a common food source for that area and in fact if someone would have food, it probably would have been bread and fish?

    Similarly the movie claims that people do not know what the fish symbol on their cars is actually “pagan astrological symbolism for the sun kingdom during the sign of Pisces.” Of course the real explanation does not fit their parallel, and so is ignored.  Early Christians adopted the fish symbol, not for any astrological meaning, but because the Greek word for Fish, IXTHUS,  is an acronym for Greek words “Jesus Christ God’s Son Savior.”

    More next time.

    This is Elgin Hushbeck, asking  you to Consider Christianity: a Faith Based on Fact.  

    Part II    Part III    Responses I   Responses II