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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 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 

A Review of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion Part I

Friday, June 22nd, 2007 by Elgin Hushbeck

June 22, 2007, Wausau, WiRichard Dawkins’, “The God Delusion” is yet another in a long line of books which attempts to make the claim that believing in God is irrational. As with the other attempts, Dawkins ultimately ends up only demonstrating his own lack of critical analysis. There is a very simple rule in critical thinking that I teach all of my classes: Anything can be accepted if you only consider the evidence in favor, and conversely anything can be rejected if you only consider the evidence against. While this is a pretty straight forward and simple rule, it is one that Dawkins runs afoul of from the very first page.

Dawkins, citing the John Lennon song “Imagine” wonders, “Imagine no suicide bombers, no 9/11, no 7/7, no Crusades, no witch-hunts, no Gunpowder plot, no Indian partition, no Israeli/Palestinian wars, no Serb/Croat/Muslim massacres, no Northern Ireland ‘troubles’, no ‘honour killings’, no shiny-suited bouffant-hair televangelists fleecing gullible people of their money (‘God wants you to give till it hurts.’) Imagine no Taliban to blow up ancient statues, no public beheading of blasphemers, no flogging of female skin for the crime of showing an inch of it.” (pp 1-2)

This one passage reveals three major problems with Dawkins’ approach. The first we have already mentioned. This is a list that contains only negative items. What about the positive? What about the good that religion has done? As I point out in my book, Christianity and Secularism, with Christianity’s rise to dominance after the fall of Rome, it brought for the first time an ethic of kindliness, obedience, humility, patience, mercy, purity, chastity, and tenderness. (p 101) Nor, without religion, would the church have been able to try to settle disputes between rulers during the middle ages so as to avoid war, nor limit the killing of civilians. Nor would Christians have been able to stress the equality of all people, nor lay the foundations of science and human rights, nor push for, and eventually achieve, the abolition of slavery. Christians by no means have a perfect record in this area, and in fact have far too often failed to live up to the teaches of Jesus, but by no means is the record all negative as Dawkins “Imagines.”

Dawkins second major error is to treat all religions as the same. They are not. In fact of the 15 things Dawkins want to imagine the world without, 11 of the 15 involve Islam either exclusively or in conflict with others. The simple fact is that, of all the major world religions, only Islam was founded by a military leader. Through-out its history, Islam as been spread by force of arms, and there remains today a significant percentage of Islam who support the use force and coercion to maintain and spread their religion. The issue is not one of religion or no religion and Dawkins would imagine and in fact, as I argue in Christianity and Secularism, it would be impossible to have no religion. Religions have to be judged individually on their own merits. Dawkins’ approach is the equivalent of arguing for the rejection of investigation in favor of blind faith by lumping legitimate sciences like chemistry in with alchemy and then pointing to the problems of alchemy as a reason to reject chemistry. For Dawkins, the problems of one religion are reasons to reject all religions.

Of the remaining four items in Dawkins’ list that do not involve Islam: witch-hunts, the Gunpowder plot, Northern Ireland, and corrupt televangelists I would argue that only the first two can really be attributed to Christianity, which brings us to Dawkins’ third major error, which confuses things that involve religion with things that are caused by religion. The conflict between England and Ireland goes back much farther than the England’s change to Protestantism. In fact, this conflict is much more a cause of the religious difference, than caused by religion. As for the corrupt televangelists, con-artists can be found in most areas. That some use science to fleece people, is not a reason to reject science, why should it be any different for religion.

As for the remaining two, these are legitimate objections. (though the Gunpowder plot failed and thus had little actual impact beyond those who planned the plot, I take it to represent the religious conflict that did exist at the time). Whereas Dawkins errs by only looking at the negative it would be equally erroneous to only consider the positive. Like most everything else that involves people there are pros and cons to religion in general and Christianity in particular. A balance approach requires us to look and both the pros and the cons. As I argue in Christianity and Secularism, when this is done for Christianity, I believe that Christianity has had a strong net positive influence in the world.