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In and Just Like

Friday, March 27th, 2009 by Elgin Hushbeck

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It is very common to hear Christians talk of impacting the world for Christ.  Or to talk of how we are to be in the world but not of the world.  But the latest numbers  from the Barna Group clearly show that the impact is the other way around.  Rather than in but not of, American Christianity is becoming in and just like.

Given that the government mandated secular worldview is so prevalent in the culture, it is not all that surprising to find that only 34% of Americans believe in absolute moral truth, or that half of Americans believe that the Bible is “accurate in all the principles that it teaches.”  What is disturbing is the inroad such beliefs are making into the church.

In the survey, “Born Again Christians” were those who said “they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is important in their life today and that they are certain that they will go to Heaven after they die only because they confessed their sins and accepted Christ as their savior.”

While born again Christians who were asked the same question did better than Americans at large, it was not much better.   While half of Americans did not believe the Bible was accurate, 21%  likewise did not believe the Bible to be accurate.  As for the belief in absolute moral truth,  even a majority of born-again Christians, 54%,  no longer accept that.

The Barna Group’s uses these and four other beliefs, such as Jesus lived a sinless life, to define a Christian world view.  Those who hold all six beliefs are then said to have a Christian world view.   Based on this the survey shows that only 9% of Americans have a Christian world view. Born again Christians do better, but not much.  Only 19% of Born Again Christians could say that they hold all six beliefs.

In a broader perspective, this decline in belief has been going on for sometime.  It reached a low point in the mid 1990s when only 7% of American held a Biblical world view. The trend reversed somewhat climbing back up to 11% by 2005,  but now is back down to 9%.

Worse however, are the statistics for the younger generations.  Those in the 18 to 23 year age group, commonly called the Mosaic generation, were virtually completely secularized, as less than one-half of one percent had a biblical world view.

Now those pushing the secular world view, would undoubtedly say that was because of the superiority of the secular world view and that people are just rejecting the false superstitions of the past.  But then they would say that, wouldn’t they.  Ultimately I do not think they can be blamed, any more than you could blame a prosecutor if you lost a trial where the evidence was on your side, but your defense lawyer never bother to get up to present  your side of the case.  

I do believe the evidence is on our side.  In some cases very clearly.  In fact, in my classes on critical thinking I would use the rejection of absolute morality as an  example of how people don’t really think through what they believe.  

I would ask how many in the class believed in absolute moral truth, and would get results similar to those found by Barna.   I would then ask if torturing babies for fun was inherently wrong, or was a matter of opinion where for some it was wrong, but for other it might not be.  With the exception of one student,  all the students in all the classes where I asked this considered torturing babies for fun inherently wrong, and the one who didn’t was not very comfortable with his conclusion but was being honest with his belief that there was no absolute moral truth.

Thus with one simple question I was able to almost completely turn around people’s thinking on absolute morality.  Granted, winning over the culture will not be quite as easy as this, but on  the other hand it is not the insurmountable problem that some seem to think, nor is everything lost.

Still the Church is like the defense  attorney with a strong case to make who never presents it. Josh McDowell, in his book The Last Christian Generation, discusses how many young people see church as little more than a place to go with a lot of fun activities, but with little impact on their lives.   This is also seen in the very large number of people who leave the church when they leave home.

Yet it need not be this way.  The Church not only has the truth, but in many cases the preponderance of the evidence to back it up.   Yet sadly many Christians have the attitude of ‘I already believe’ so they don’t need to learn about things like doctrine or apologetics.  In fact, it is not only quite sad, but very telling, that many Christians do not even know what the word  apologetics means.  Given this, the results from Barna, are really no surprise.

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

Does Your Church Want the Bible?

Friday, February 27th, 2009 by Elgin Hushbeck

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A few Sundays ago at church, my Bible study class was about to begin when a woman came to the door and asked, “What class is this?”    I told her I was teaching about the Bible.    Her immediate response was, “Oh, no,  I don’t want that.” She instantly realized that the words had not come out as she intended, as this was not the class she was trying to fine, and it made for a somewhat amusing moment.

While amusing, it is somewhat of a metaphor for a deeper problem in the church.  While this woman’s comments were misstatement,  for far too many Christians this is their attitude.  Not directly for sure, and if you ask them they would probably say that the Bible is important.  But however important they may think it is, their  knowledge of it is limited to what they have picked up from the pastor’s sermons.

Some pastors inadvertently encourage these Bible-optional Christians by constantly changing the versions they cite passages from. In fact I have seen some pastors who quote from several different versions each sermon.   Whatever the benefit,  the effect is that it makes it virtually impossible to follow the pastors sermon in your own Bible.  The trend towards topical sermons,  in which the Bible becomes little more than a smorgasbord of proof texts  does not help either.    And after all the verses will be on the power point slides on in the bulletin.

The bottom line is that fewer and fewer people see any need to bring a Bible to church.  Bible study itself is likewise down played either intentionally or unintentionally.  At a church I attended a while back the only time the pastor ever mentioned  any Bible class was to mention his own.   Except for children  and teens  for many churches  bible study is just not all that important.

As Josh McDowell  pointed out in his book The Last Christian Generation, even with teens active in Youth Groups,   Church is often seen more as  a place for fun activities than learning about God.   Thus many of our children are like the seeds sown on stony ground “They sprouted at once because the soil wasn’t deep.  But  when the sun came up, they were scorched.  Since they did not have any roots, they dried up. ” (Mt 13:5-6)  As children and teens they spout quickly in church, but when they leave home and enter the hot sun of the world they dry up quickly.    To see this one only has to consider the stat cited by Thom Rainer of Lifeway that  “70% of 18 to 22 year olds drop out of the church. Many of them are crying for deeper biblical teaching and preaching.” 

One of the most frustrating aspects about this is that it is so unnecessary.  It is not that we need massive changes to address the problem.  Rather what is needed a series of small changes aimed at emphasizing the importance of the word of God, the need to read it, and the need to study it. 

This changes can be as simple as asking people who brought their bibles to open them to that passage for the sermon.   It does not mean that you have to make people who did not bring a Bible feed out of place our unwelcome,  but there is nothing wrong with encouraging people to bring a Bible to Church.

Churches should also make it clear that that the study of God’s word is an important priority, whether this is done on Sunday morning in traditional Sunday school,  at other times at the church,  in small groups at people’s homes, or preferably all three,  people should find it easy to find and join a class.  For far too many adult Bible study is an afterthought.  Something done mainly out of tradition than any real commitment.  Simply clearly listing the classes  the subjects or age groups, and where they meet on a board should be a minimum.  But including them in the bulletin at regular intervals is a nice reminder and particularly helpful  for those new to the church, and for classes that do not meet on Sunday morning.

These are hardly revolutionary or difficult changes.  There are of course many other things that could be done.  But sadly much of the church is not even doing this.   And it shows. 

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

Hitchens – God Is Not Great VII

Friday, July 25th, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

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In my extended review of Christopher Hitchens, “God Is Not Great,” we have finally reached chapter two. This is one of the problems with the Neo-atheists, as there are so many blatant errors and problems in their writings and with their arguments that even just picking out just some of the most obvious ones takes many posts. There were for example many more problems in Chapter one that I easily could have addressed, but I have decided to move one and will attempt to pick up the pace a bit with the hopes of one day finishing.

Hitchens begins this chapter asking why the belief in “infinitely benign and all-powerful creator” (pg 15) who watches over and cares for us, and who has prepared eternity for those who obey him, does not make believers happy? He goes on to state that, “religion does not, and in the long run cannot, be content with its own marvelous claims and sublime assurances. It must seek to interfere with the lives of nonbelievers, or heretics, or adherents of other faiths.” (pg 17) His prime example for this was Mother Teresa actions against a change in Irish Law to allow divorce.

To Hitchens and the other neo-atheists, no doubt this is a powerful and devastating indictment of religion. My reaction, on the other hand, is more along the lines of shaking my head and saying, so many errors, so little time.

Let’s start with Hitchens’ question about happiness. The simple fact is that believers are, as a general rule happier, as many polls have demonstrated. For example, an extensive survey of teenagers and young adults last year found that those who said that religion or spirituality was the most important thing in their lives were a third more likely to be happy than those for whom it was not important. So the premise of Hitchens argument is just false and the question we should be asking is why are so many of those who reject God unhappy? But I suspect the answer to this question would not support Hitchens as well.

Hitchens’ broader claim about interfering with the lives of nonbelievers is not so clear cut, though his prime example reveals some significant problems with his reasoning. Now it is certainly true, that Christians have at times interfered with the lives of non-believers. But this is not the black and white question implied by Hitchens.

While Hitchens points to negative examples of such interference to bolster his case, what about the positive examples? What about those Christians who felt compelled to interfere in the slave trade because they believed it to be immoral? What about those Christians today who feel compelled to interfere for the poor, the sick, and the persecuted around the world? Would the world really be a better place if Christians just closed their eyes to such suffering, as not any of their business? Would the world really be a better place if, instead of vigorously fighting to end the slave trade, William Wilberforce had adopted the secular motto of “who am I to judge”?

Just as Christians tend to be happier than atheists, numerous polls also show that Christians are more charitable as well. For example, the United States is not only more religious than Europe; it is the most charitable country in the world; and not only in total dollars, but in percentage of Gross National Product as well. In fact, the US gave more than twice as much as percentage of GNP than its closest competitor, England, and more than ten times than the far more secular France.

Even if you factor in Government “contributions,” in addition charitable giving by individuals, the US still gives nearly 50 percent more than England, and over twice as much as France. This difference between secular vs. religious giving continues within the United States as well, as states where religion is strong and important tend to out give the more secular states.

So while Hitchens bemoans interference, it is often good and to be commended rather than attacked. Even his example of Mother Teresa opposing a change in divorce law is problematic, though not surprising. I have frequently been told by secular opponents that my position on this or that political issue is invalid because it is “religious.” Carried to its logical conclusion such reasoning would make Christians and other people of faith second class citizens, whose very participation in the democratic process was suspect.

It would seem that for many secularists in democracy people are free to enact the social policies they want, just as long as those social policies cannot in any way be considered religious. Hitchens suggest that the Catholics could continue to follow their church’s teaching on divorce without “imposing them on all other citizens.” In other words, do what you want, but keep your religious noses out of social policy, that is for us secularist to determine based on what we think our reason tells us at any given moment.

Of course if the secularist were correct, one could just as easily ask why even have a Government policy on divorce or marriage at all. Just let everyone do whatever they want, for as soon as you have any policy at all, someone will not like it. While secularist I have talked to object to such counterarguments, when you look at the social trends and recent court rulings, that seems to be exactly where we are headed.

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

A Review of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion Part XV

Friday, February 1st, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

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In chapter 7 of his book, “The God Delusion” Richard Dawkins, turn the issue of morality and the Bible.  Dawkins lays down his goal pretty clearly in the opening paragraph when he says that the Bible, “encourages a system of morals which any civilized modern person whether religious or not, would find – I can put it no more gently – obnoxious.”  As for the millions of people who do get their morality from the Bible and yet somehow seem to be civilized and modern, Dawkins claims that “they either do not read it, or do not understand it.”

As a Christian friend of mine is fond of saying when confronted with such statements, “And yet here I stand.” The simple fact is that there are many people who do read and understand the Bible, probably a lot more than Dawkins, who reach vastly different conclusion.

It is true that on the one hand there are the extreme fundamentalists who insist that any deviation from how they read the Bible is heresy. In fact, in some cases they even argue that if you don’t read the same translation they do, you must be a heretic.  Yet on the other hand there are the skeptics like Dawkins who, if you deviate from how they read the Bible you are picking “which bits of scripture to believe” (pg 238).  Other than the conclusions they reach, I find very little difference between the two groups, as they both have a very superficial view of scripture, and dogmatically reject any deviation from their view.

Again Dawkins is not completely at fault here for he relies on the work of liberal scholars who are also critical of the scripture, such as Bishop Shelby Spong. But as I detail in my book, Evidence for the Bible, Liberal scholars are often little better than these other two groups. For example a while back I heard Bishop Spong being interviewed on the radio and he said that the Gospel of John that was anti-Semitic, and he knew of no scholars who would argue differently.  This means that he was completely unaware of those scholars, for they certainly do exist.  D. A Carson for example, in his Commentary on John’s Gospel, lists other possible understandings and argues quite convincingly from the text that anti-Semitism simply does not fit.

Dawkins’ analysis of the Bible starts out by listing the acts of God he considers immoral such as Noah and the Flood, and Sodom and Gomorrah. There are two main problem Dawkins faces with these arguments. The first, as discussed in earlier installments of this review, is on what basis of morality are we to make such criticism?

A bigger problem however, is that to really judge the morality of an action, we need to have all the relevant information the person had at the time.  Without that information, an act that seems immoral could in fact have been moral in light of the addition information.  For example, if all you knew was that John cut Mary with a knife, that might seem immoral until you find out that John was a doctor removing a cancerous growth.

The simple fact is that we can never hope of have all the relevant information available to God so as to be in a position to pass judgment on God.  Nor does this really matter, in terms of our morality, as even in the Bible these are special cases, and not models for us to follow today.

Another problem in Dawkins critique is that he at times fails to distinguish between the Bible describing what happened, and the Bible telling us how we should act. For example, he cites the instance in Judges where a priest cut up his concubine into 12 pieces (Judges 19).   But as the book of Judges says about the period, “in those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.” (Judge 21:25)  One of the unique aspects of the Bible is that it does not present the main figures as perfect and noble, but as flawed.   We are not so much to follow their actions, but frequently to learn from their mistakes.  But Dawkins often is too busy ridiculing to notice such distinctions.

One of the stranger side trips Dawkins takes, is when he condemns “America’s Ten Commandment tablet-toters” arguing that they should be praising the Taliban for their destruction of Buddhist statues.  He says “I do not believe there is an atheist in the world who would bulldoze Mecca—or Chartres, York Minster or Notre Dame,  the Shew Dagon, the temples of Kyoto, or of course, the Buddhas of Bamiyan.” (pg 249)  Apparently Dawkins is unaware that much of the controversy in the U.S. is over the removal of Christian religious symbols such as crosses and the Ten Commands.  In short, those in the U.S. acting like the Taliban in their intolerant seeking to remove religious symbols they disagree with are not Christians, but atheists.

Finally Dawkins fail to consider the historical context of the time. For example, he asked if a whole range of offenses should have the death penalty, starting with cursing your parents. This was nothing new to the age, in fact even today; in some cultures parent have the right and even the duty to kill their children that dishonor them. What was new in the Bible’s command was that parents had to “bring him to the elders at the gate of his town.”  The change the teaching of the Bible brought about was that the power to kill was removed from the parents. But like in so much of his analysis, Dawkins missed the point of the passage.  

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

A Review of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion Part V

Friday, September 7th, 2007 by Elgin Hushbeck

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Sept 7, 2007, Wausau, Wi  So far, in my review of Richard Dawkins’, “The God Delusion” I have showed how Dawkins’ arguments in the first chapter of his book concerning religion in general and Christianity in particular are seriously flawed. In chapter two Dawkins turns to the more specific question of God. 

He starts the chapter with what can at best be characterized as a stereotypical rant, “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all the fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, and unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniac, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

The main justification that Dawkins’ gives for this statement is that Winston Churchill’s son, Randolph, came to a similar conclusion when he read the Old Testament for the first time while in the army. 

As a result, his views were not based on any serious in depth understanding of the text.  No attempt was made to put any of the books into an historical context.  No attempt was made to put the books into any cultural context.  There was simply a superficial reading.

Dawkins goes on to write that, “It is unfair to attack such an easy target.” The reason it is so easy is that what Dawkins has done here is to create a strawman view of god that he can then easily knock down, not an accurate depiction of God based on any scholarly analysis of the text.

Dawkins goes on from this to state his alternative to god, “any creative intelligence, of sufficient complexity to design anything, comes into existence only as the end product of an extended process of gradual evolution.” His alternative is a little confusing because it seems to be, not an alternative to god, but a reason why a god could not exist.  But even as a reason why a god could not exist, it still does not make very much sense because it is based on the premise that a god would be a part of the universe and therefore that would need to evolve.  But a god who created the universe could not be part of the created universe without falling into the absurdity of self creation.

From there Dawkins goes on to expand the view of religion that sees progress from “primitive tribal animisms, and, through Polytheisms such as those of the Greeks, Romans and Norsemen, to monotheisms such as Judaism and its derivatives, Christianity and Islam.” (pg 32) While this seems like a nice neat theory that fits Dawkins bias to see evolution everywhere, as I discuss in my book, Evidence for the Bible, if anything the opposite is true.  Monotheism seems to devolve into polytheism, and the tendency would seem to be to create more gods, not fewer. Even in modern times, as Western civilization as moved away from Christianity, God has been replaced by many other things, wealth, fame, country, science, nature. Now even in science there are those pushing the concept of Gaia or mother earth.

While Dawkins purports to discuss polytheism at this point, instead, he quickly switches to ridiculing the Trinity.  That his discussion of the Trinity occurs in the section on polytheism shows once again the superficiality with which Dawkins approach religion.  After quoting a passage from St. Gregory, Dawkins takes one of his characteristic swipes at religion, saying “his words convey a characteristically obscurantist flavor of theology, which – unlike science or most other branches of human scholarship – has not moved on in 18 centuries.”

The first problem with this is that there was nothing particularly obscure in St. Gregory’s discussion of the Trinity.  That Dawkins finds it obscured is simply more evidence of his superficiality.  Anyone, reading a technical discussion in a field of study where they are not familiar with the key issues, problems, or terminology, is likely to find that discussion obscure.

Dawkins’ claim that theology has not “moved on in 18 centuries” is equally as false.  Sure the basic doctrines such as God, Jesus Christ, and salvation, have not changed.  But why should they?  If scientists 18 centuries from now still believe in gravity will that be a reason to reject science because it is not moved on?  On the other hand, to say there has been no development in theology in the last 18 centuries is simply false. 

In fact, just in the last hundred years there’s been tremendous development in our understanding of the Bible, as our understanding of Biblical languages, archaeology, and history have improved.  Granted, these have not challenged the foundations of our faith, and in fact if anything, have strengthened them, has they have demonstrated the reliability of the Bible, and have refuted most of the arguments put forth by critics such as Dawkins, which is perhaps why Dawkins ignores these developments.

Dawkins’ closes the section on polytheism by attempting to forestall the criticism that the god Dawkins is attacking is not the God that Christians believe in.  His response is that all notions of god are silly and that he is “attacking god, all gods, anything and everything supernatural, wherever and whenever they have been or will be invented.”

While this is a bold and sweeping claim, it does not match the actual arguments in the book.  It would be like claiming you are refuting all of science, when all of your argument relate to alchemy.  Likewise Dawkins’ arguments fall short.

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

Part I     Part II     Part III    Part IV 

A Review of Sam Harris' The End of Faith Part V

Friday, May 25th, 2007 by Elgin Hushbeck

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May 25, 2007, Wausau, Wi— The previous parts (I, II, III, IV ) of my review of Sam Harris’ The End Of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, focused on how distorted Harris’s view of religion was, and pointed out that his critique does not really apply to Christianity.  In part IV we looked at how Harris tried to support his erroneous views with an erroneous understanding of scripture.  But Harris not only has problems with his views of religion and the Bible, he also has problems when it come to the alternative he is supporting.

Towards the end of his book Harris says that “it is possible to have one’s experience of the world radically transformed.” He then charges that “The problem with religion is that it blends this truth so thoroughly with the venom of unreason.”  As an example of unreason, he cites that Jesus was “the Son of God, born of a virgin, and destined to return to earth trailing clouds of glory.”  (pg. 204) But why are these beliefs unreasonable? We saw in part IV of this review, that it was Harris’ use of the Bible in an attempt to discredit the belief in the virgin birth that was itself grounded in error and irrationality. Earlier in his book he simply dismisses the virgin birth as “an untestable proposition.” What he means by untestable is not clear.

It is certainly is untestable in the sense that we cannot duplicate the virgin birth in a laboratory, as by definition are all miracles untestable in this sense. They are unique acts of God, not repeatable events governed by natural law.  In a similar fashion all of history is made up of a series of unique acts of men. We cannot put the holocaust into a laboratory and run experiments on it to see if we can duplicate it, nor would we want to if we could. But to deny the holocaust is correctly seen as itself irrational.  Some believe in the Holocaust because the suffered through it. Most believe in the holocaust because of the historical evidence, i.e. the records and sources which because of examination are deem to be reliable and trustworthy. When the last holocaust survivor dies this will be the only way.

This is normally how we get all of our history. It is the same for the virgin birth, Christians deem the writers of the Bible to be not only reliable and trustworthy, but inspired by God.  Not only is this proposition testable, as I show in my book, Evidence for the Bible, it is the rational conclusion to reach. And despite Harris, testing is not a concept foreign to the Bible.  After all Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 “Test everything, hold on to the good.” In 1 Corinthians 15, writing about some who rejected the resurrection, he pointed out that Jesus “appeared to over five hundred of the brother at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.” Paul clearly saw the resurrection, not as some abstract theological belief, but as a testable historical event, and there was a implicit challenge in his reference to “most of whom are still alive” that if you do not believe it, you should go and talk to the hundreds who saw it.  Of course with the passing of the first century, and the death of the last eyewitness, all that we have left are the sources, but the fact is that there are more sources for Jesus than we have for most events in antiquity and with the discoveries made during the twentieth century, once again it has been the critics that have had to revise their view of the Bible, and believers who were supported.

In fact, when you look at the arguments for and against the reliability of the Bible critically, as I point out in my books, the critics have a huge problem for at best their arguments are based on an a priori rejection of the supernatural and at worst are circular.  When you get past all the blustering, and boil it down, they start with the belief that there is no supernatural. Since there is no supernatural, there can be no real miracles. Since the Bible contains descriptions of miracles, either the writers did not know what really happened or they lied. Either way they are unreliable, and thus we cannot trust anything they say unless it shown to be true by other means. This is a nice and neat little package and everything flows from the initial premise, but notice that no actual evidence is required.  Sure evidence is often thrown in, often haphazardly as we saw in part IV with Harris’ attempt to refute the virgin birth from scripture, but it is really just window dressing and not really needed to reach their conclusion.

What Harris neglects is that all worldviews have fundamental propositions that must to some extent be based on faith.  Within the confines of his worldview, the automatic rejection of things like Jesus really being “the Son of God, born of a virgin, and destined to return to earth trailing clouds of glory.”  (pg. 204) may seem unreasonable leaps of faith.  But that does not change that fact that Harris also must have faith in his fundamental premises.  As such, in many respects, is argument is self-refuting.

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

Part I     Part II    Part III     Part IV    Part VI 

A Review of Sam Harris' The End of Faith Part IV

Friday, May 18th, 2007 by Elgin Hushbeck

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May 18, 2007, Wausau, Wi— So far, in our review (I, II, III)  Sam Harris’ The End Of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, we have seen how Harris’s irrational view of religion has lead him to many false conclusions and beliefs.  Harris attempts to back up some of his claims by pointing to scripture. Not too surprisingly his use of scriptures is just as uncritical as the claims he is trying to support.

For example, Harris writes, “Anyone who imagines that no justification for the Inquisition can be found in scripture need only consult the Bible to have his view of the matter clarified.” (p 82)He then goes on to cite Deuteronomy 13:12-16 which calls for the total destruction of any town that turns to worship other Gods.  For Harris, this is evidence enough that the Church was following the “Good Book.”  For Harris, there are no questions of historical setting or context.  That these were instructions to the Jewish nation, given before they entered Israel, and thus, might not be applicable Christians in the Middle Ages seem to be irrelevant. The Bible said it, and that is good enough for Harris to use for his attack. 

Not too surprisingly Harris not only ignores questions about context, he also ignores all the passages that conflict with his views.  Passages such as 1 Peter 3:15-16 which says we should treat unbelievers with “Gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience” because “Christ died once for all.” Romans 12:14 which says we are to “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse” or 1 Corinthians 6:12 where Paul asks “What business is it of mine to judge those outside… God will judge those outside” and of judging those inside the church Paul said “Expel the wicked man from among you.” Based on this it is far more likely that it was Pope Leo the IX who was following the teaching of the Bible, when he said the maximum penalty for heresy should be excommunication, while later Popes took the inquisition, not from the Bible, but from a revival of Roman law, as mentioned in Part I.

While this scriptural error completely undermines one of Harris’ key claims, it is hardly the only one he makes.  In his attempt to discredit the virgin birth, Harris incorrectly claims that the Greek word parthenos (virgin) was an “erroneous translation” of the Hebrews word alma which simply means “‘young woman’, without any implications of virginity.” (pg 95) While it may be in today’s culture that there is no connection to being a young woman and a virgin, that is hardly the case of the time of Isaiah, and in fact every use of alma in the Old Testament refers to a woman who was a virgin. Nor was it Matthew and Luke who were first to translate this as parthenos, as this is how the Septuagint, a Greek translation made several hundred years before Christ,  translates Isaiah 7:14.

Harris’ further compounds his error by claiming that Mark and John “seem to know nothing about [the virgin birth]” because they do not mention it. Yet just because they do not mentioned it  hardly means they don’t know about it. To claim that it does, commits the logic fallacy called argumentum ad silentio or an argument from silence. Then Harris finishes with yet two more errors. First he cites Romans 1:3 “born of the seed of David” and tries to claim that Paul meant by this that Joseph was Jesus’ father.  The problem with this is that Joseph is not even mentioned in the passage, David is. Thus the two options would be that Paul was attempting to say that David was the father, or that Jesus was a descendant of David. Given the context, and the fact that David had been dead for about 1000 years, it is pretty easy to conclude that the latter was Paul’s point.

Harris concludes this comedy of errors with the truly bizarre claim that Paul’s statement in Galatians 4:4 and its reference to “born of a woman” also shows that Paul knows nothing of the virgin birth because he does not mention Mary’s virginity, which is again the irrational argument from silence. 

Much the same could be said for his discussion of the verses that are supposed to teach anti-Semitism, though sadly here he can cite many examples of Christians throughout European history to support him.   It is significant however, the many Popes taught against anti-Semitism, and the papal states were one of the safest places for Jews during this period.  Nor is it insignificant that American Christianity looks to the Bible to justify their support of the Jews, in particular the promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:2-3 to “bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you.”

Harris is correct, that Christians have during their history done great evil.  But I would argue that it was not caused by following the Bible but was more from disobedience to God and his word.  If Harris wants us to use reason over religion, perhaps he should start by taking a more rational approach to understanding what the Bible actually teaches.

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

Part I     Part II    Part III  Part V    Part VI