Category Archives: Atheism

Evolve

Last year’s Family Guy episode titled “Big Bang Theory” (no relation to the show of the same name) left me scratching my head.  In the story, Brian and Stewie end up outside the space-time continuum after some mishaps with Stewie’s time machine.  After successfully getting back to reality, Stewie determines that the energy he created to free them must have been the cause of the Big Bang, concluding that he must have been put there by the universe to create it.  While this plot could just be attributed to a difference in writers, it still seems unusual coming from series creator and outspoken atheist Seth McFarlane’s creations.  Assuming an intelligence creating the universe is closely theistic, and since no sympathetic depiction of theism ever slips through on Family Guy, this leads me to believe it’s merely the result of a recent trend in atheism.

Stewie and Brian outside the time-space continuum

Stewie and Brian outside the time-space continuum

As much as the New Atheists are opposed to creationism or intelligent design, it’s fascinating how much they seem to believe in an intelligence behind the universe while rejecting an intelligent designer.  Atheist leaders like Sam Harris argue that religion is a vestigial product of evolution that is no longer beneficial to society, which is a value-judgment ironically counter to evolutionary theory.  His followers persistently tell theists to “evolve”, and their definition of evolution is a one-track ascent of man which conveniently leads to their ideology as the ultimate end.  For starters, the entire concept of telling someone to “evolve” out of their own volition is completely unscientific, the equivalent of telling a leopard to change its spots.  Every individual organism would already be at the height of its evolution, after all, and nothing it does can change that.  Next, evolutionarily speaking, one organism is not “more” or “less” evolved than another; concepts of regression or progression are value judgments that only have meaning to man.  The term “de-evolution” is a misnomer, nature is indifferent to which organisms or ideologies ought to reproduce, survival of the fittest is merely the result of the thinning of the herd.

While completely in line with evolutionary theory, these facts are difficult for the New Atheist to swallow.  Just as Sam Harris is seemingly incapable of understanding that science can only tell us how the world is, not how it ought to be, so his followers generally perceive expressing these facts as moralizing.  For instance, atheists generally respond by being insulted when I factually explain to them that the birth-rate of liberals is insufficient to replace the current generation, and that conservatives will marginalize them by virtue of reproducing more frequently.  Mathematically, the side that discourages abortion and promotes heterosexual marriage for procreation has a natural advantage over the side that has non-procreative sex and abortions; this is indisputable scientific fact.  Ironically, the ones destined to prevail generally don’t even believe in evolution, whereas the ideology that does will find themselves the lesser suited for survival.  The scientific solution is for liberals to simply start having more children, yet almost reluctantly they always seem to argue that the conservatives ought to change their beliefs or have fewer offspring.  In other words, they respond to morally neutral facts with moral judgments.  However, they don’t see their recommendations for what they really are–social engineering or selective breeding–they see their ideology as the destined course of human development, presupposing intelligence behind evolution, as if godless nature favors the atheist.  It is an audacious value judgment to assume one’s own ideology is more “evolved” than another, especially when it really has no evolutionary adantages over competing ideas.

Evolutionarily, Islam is the memeplex most suited to dominate the world.  Allowing up to four sexually submissive wives per husband with no legal abortions and starting to conceive very early in life, its birth rate is automatically enabled to be quadruple that of the most sexually active fertile couple.  Its hostile suppression of homosexuality ensures no attrition lost to same-sex intercourse, and the few gays executed under sharia law are more than offset by the millions pressured to marry and produce more anti-gay progeny for fear of their life.  Furthermore, Islam punishes dissenters and apostates with the death penalty and forbids other religions from proselytizing, ultimately ensuring 100% homogenization.  This is just statistical and scientific fact, I am not celebrating the memetic superiority of Islam.  The New Atheists, however, usually cannot understand my describing how the world is in comparison to how it ought to be.  Stating such facts is not bragging about Islam, nor is it suggesting that one should convert to the religion best positioned for world domination.

As a Christian, I can acknowledge the Islamic practices that give that religion an unfair advantage and also denounce them.  The scientific solution, after all, would be for non-Muslims to start taking more than four wives and likewise punishing gays and dissenters severely, but that would not be the moral solution.  Christianity may not be at a reproductive advantage over Islam, but I can still believe it is a morally superior ideology that should not be compromised, and must nonetheless succeed against overwhelming odds.  It is not how the world is by nature, but it is, in my belief, how the world ought to be, and that gives me the moral ground to spread and promote faith in Christ.  The atheists usually agree with me that Islam taking over the world would be a bad thing, although they’re at a loss to explain why.  The New Atheist, after all, has no authority, moral or otherwise, to defend why their reproductively inferior ideology should persevere over Islam or Christianity.  They may think of themselves as more intellectual, ethical, social, etc. than theists, but no law says nature must favor these qualities.  Sometimes stronger organisms survive over smarter ones, but if whatever survives is the product of evolution then who are we to say that gorillas ought to triumph over leopards?  Why should nature favor atheists?  Or why should humans survive, for that matter?  The very people who believe in evolution could, ironically, die out completely and whoever remained would still be the product of evolution.  The atheists who presumptuously think of themselves as the peak of evolutionary development cannot justify their own survival unless they assume some underlying intelligence behind evolution.

The simple value judgments that atheists make about the world, themselves, and others indicates that they don’t genuinely subscribe to their soulless ideology as strictly as they might claim.  Their belief that the world ought to be improving as a natural process is an assumption of intelligent design.  If atheists were to truly divorce their enlightenment fundamentalism from its theistic roots, their idea of how the world ought to be would be drastically different, but it would not be a tenable worldview.  Any worldview must rely on value judgments, after all, which are entirely outside of the domain of science.  Atheistic materialism is a failed philosophy, because philosophy is immaterial.  As much as they may want to keep Intelligent Design out of science classes, the atheist would be unable to relate to the world without an assumed intelligent order behind it all, whether they acknowledge that as God or not.

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Modern Snobbery

One of my biggest pet peeves today are modernist snobs, like people who refuse to watch black & white movies or silent movies just because they’re old.  Perhaps the best example of this is when people ask me what the point is in watching classic movies on Blu-ray because, after all, they didn’t even have HD back then.  Ok, I realize those who watch movies on their phones probably wouldn’t know this, but 1080p will never compare to the resolution of film.  That’s right, that old-fashioned analog projector at the silent movie theatre actually presents films better than your expensive, state-of-the-art HD TV.  Oftentimes, we’re so accustomed to the superiority of the next generation of technology that we lose sight of the advances that got us from A to B.  We use cell phones even though the average person has no idea how they work, yet we consider ourselves more advanced than everyone in history before us who didn’t have a cell phone just because we do.  It’s a natural human tendency to view older technology as primitive, and while it may be, this view becomes snobbery when we start to equate primitive with stupid.

Modern snobs tend to have a low opinion of our ancient ancestors.  After all, if they lived before the Enlightenment or the Renaissance then they have little to offer us in this day and age.  Yet drop these modern snobs in the wilderness without their modern technology and most of them wouldn’t know how to survive at a stone age level.  The ancients may not have had combustion engines or the scientific method, but even primitive civilization requires a great deal of sophistication to function.  Perhaps the biggest error made by the modern snob is to judge a past civilization’s progress from the vantage point of modern advances.  This is not to say that civilizations cannot be judged for lack of progress or regressive social change, as seen with the spread of Islam today, just that forward moving progress should be acknowledged even when a society is in transition.

Enlightenment fundamentalists can be particularly guilty of this judgmental attitude.  The new atheist revision of history holds religion responsible for any perceived lack of progress in the world until the emergence of reason in the 18th century, and then gives credit of all subsequent progress thereafter to the decline of religion.  This is an obvious myth because the 18th century atheists proved to be even more oppressive of dissent than their religious contemporaries, as evidenced by the Cult of Reason and the Reign of Terror.  While atheist societies were young compared to the scope of their religious predecessors, they wasted no time in stacking up a body count to eclipse all of the religious wars in recorded history.  Far from pioneering the way towards progress, the atheists that emerged were a product of their time, a product that could have only arisen at that point in history because of the progress made by their ancestors.  Today’s atheists often try to take credit for the advancements of society in general, when the reality is they have little understanding of how civilizations develop from precedent and accumulated knowledge, nor how few of their most esteemed values actually originated from atheists.

A favorite criticism of the enlightenment fundamentalist is the Mosaic Law.  Their greatest champions like Richard Dawkins draw the majority of their anti-Christian ammunition from misrepresenting the Old Testament as a backwards law code by today’s standards, without acknowledging the advancements that it presented for civilization at the time it was delivered.  Critics are quick to point out slavery, seemingly harsh punishments, and perceived misogyny in the Pentateuch, while ignoring advances like the Jubilee, limits of excessive punishment (which is the intended meaning of “an eye for an eye”), and protection of women.  They also conveniently overlook the fact that these causes were not historically championed by atheists until more recently.  Despite its egalitarianism, the Enlightenment fathers still valued property law over human rights and did little for the cause of abolition, which was largely a Christian movement resulting from an increased emphasis on Christianity from the Second Great Awakening.  The United States Constitution’s compromise on slavery shows just how difficult it is for the architects of any new civilization to change longstanding practices overnight.  American progress towards abolition is routinely criticized for being too slow by modernists, who’ve never lived with legal slavery.  While it’s easy for those of us living in an economy with no dependence on the slave trade to judge even the abolitionists for being too soft on slave owners, we also have the luxury of not having to fight a bloody Civil War to end that institution once and for all.  Likewise, the Constitution did not afford women the vote, but this right was won later following another Christian revival period.  Nevertheless, the Constitution was a watershed moment in the evolution of law and freedom, as was the Mosaic Law for its time.

One particular remnant of America’s past that atheists have heavily criticized are blue laws.  Seen as enforcing religious standards on a secular society, blue laws stem from traditional observance of Sunday as a day of rest and no work.  Now that global economies operate 24/7, these days blue laws are generally more of an annoyance in that they merely restrict commerce of certain “vice” items, such as alcohol, cigarettes, or tampons.  Admittedly, forbidding the sale of tampons on any day of the week was ridiculous, but the original spirit of the law in line with the 4th commandment served an important social purpose.  While atheists may have a knee-jerk aversion to consecrating any day as “holy”, a day off is sacred to the worker in the simplest definition of the word, meaning inviolate or cherished.  We need to remember that these laws date back to the time when slavery was still legal, so guaranteeing every worker a day off every week was a necessary human right.  Abolition was just one of the many reforms that needed to be installed before society was ready to abandon compulsory days of rest.  Today we have the benefit of countless other improvements often taken for granted: 40-hour work weeks, hourly wages, overtime, sick time, vacation time, etc.  Worker’s rights are now protected under a complex law code instead of a simple umbrella, but the present status quo would have been unattainable without its antecedent principle, embedded in religion.  Most modern atheists don’t even consider that striking this law from the books even just 150 years ago would have been a license for slaveowners to abuse their workers, and would have been a far cry from liberating.

Today’s atheists have inherited a civilization that they couldn’t have built themselves.  Attempts to create an atheistic civilization in Revolutionary France or any Marxist experiment have been colossal failures.  Some atheists may view religion as a nursemaid that carried civilization to maturity, which can abandon religion now that atheistic reason is here to move us forward, but this is an erroneous assumption:  the precedent of freedom of conscience can be traced to the Puritans, much to the surprise of modern snobs; education of both sexes of all classes was an early Christian innovation; women’s suffrage and abolition have already been traced to their Christian roots; and despite however much atheists complain about Christians impeding gay rights in the US, we still have gay marriage legal in several states and DADT has been repealed, while you don’t find same sex marriages or openly gay servicemen anywhere in all of China.  In virtually all aspects of reform, atheists find themselves trailing behind theists, and particularly Christians.  Rather than being ready to take the wheel, atheists have been backseat drivers to Christian progress.

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The Top 5 Misconceptions that Atheists and Muslims Believe about Christianity

It’s no big secret that atheists on the left have taken Islam in under their wing.  The loudest voice of Islamic apologetics in the West comes not from Muslims themselves, but from secularists whose pro-feminist, pro-choice, pro-gay ideologies seem in conflict with the religion of Islam.  Yet although their conclusions may differ, many of their assumptions are surprisingly similar, particular when they pertain to Christianity.

Both Islam and secular atheism are post-Christian ideologies.  Today’s new atheists descend from predominately Christian societies, never arising in Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, etc. cultures.  They resent their parent Judeo-Christian ideology as much as Muslims resent Jews and Christians.  In coming to their post-Christian conclusions, they operate under several common assumptions.  Ironically, in trying so hard not to believe Christianity, what they end up believing about Christianity is demonstrably false.  While there are certainly many more commonalities, the Top 5 that I’ve identified are:

1.  Paul changed the Christian message from the teachings of Christ to the religion we know today.

This assumption appeals to Muslims because they want to believe Jesus was a prophet but not the Son of God and definitely not God.  Muhammad never mentioned Paul either way, but using him as a scapegoat for the deification of the prophet Jesus has been a convenient way to reduce Jesus to just a man.  For this same reason, it appeals to atheists who don’t have the audacity to deny a historical Jesus altogether, but need a reason to explain how Jesus the moral teacher became Jesus the Lord and Savior.  At first glance, it does seem like a legitimate question.  Flipping through the New Testament from the Gospels into the Pauline Epistles, one will certainly notice the difference in Paul’s tone and writing.

But the reality is, the chronological narrative of our New Testament is not the same as the literary chronology.  The Gospels were written well after the conversion of Paul, when his epistles were already in circulation.  Luke was originally combined with Acts, so the accounts of Paul and Christ were always connected.  There never was a church with a scriptural tradition that did not accept them both.  Many people erroneously believe that Paul never quotes Christ, but that’s just not true (in fact, Paul references a lot of material in Matthew that I’ll cover at a later time).  If one was going to try to make this argument, they simply couldn’t do it with the present canon, which brings us up to the 2nd myth:

2.  Books that belonged in the Bible were removed in the Nicene Council.

The theological differences between the Qur’an and the New Testament are too big to be blamed solely on Paul.  The injil (gospel) referenced in the Qur’an cannot be the same as the Gospels in the Bible, since Muhammad never quotes the canonical Jesus and rejects both the crucifixion and the resurrection.  On the other hand, Muhammad does quote non-canonical sources like the Infancy Gospel of Thomas (Qur’an 3:49, 19:29) and the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew (Qur’an 19:22).  It’s a reasonable conclusion for Muslims to conclude that their “real” gospel isn’t in the Bible at all, and atheists like this assumption because it suggests the religion of Christianity as we know it today is actually just derived from a piecemeal collection of texts unrelated to the original message.

For reasons I can never figure out, these critics always seem to point to the Council of Nicaea as the point when the allegedly corrupted canon was settled.  This in itself is easily refuted because the Nicene Council had nothing to do with canonization, but what about these “other” gospels?  This argument really doesn’t help the Muslims because they agree with the Jesus in these non-canonical books even less than they do with the one in the Gospels.  Of all the heterodox sexts in the first Christian centuries–gnosticism, sabellianism, arianism, basilidianism, etc.–none of them concur with Islamic theology, let alone Islamic Christology.  Ironically, the book that does seem to be an agenda-driven mixed bag of various sources is actually the Qur’an.  The books of the New Testament were acknowledged by the Church Fathers (Clement, Eusebius, Ireneaus) well before the 4th century, and aside from some questionable works like the Shepherd of Hermas, 1 Clement, or the Epistle of Barnabus that fell into disuse, the canon as we know it today has persisted through history intact.  Contrary to what atheists seem to think, Christians don’t just believe everything that’s written.  Unable to diminish the integrity of the canon, the only recourse left is to question the accurateness of the existing canon.

3.  There are too many versions of the Bible to know what it really means anymore.

Muslims don’t really want to throw out the Gospels altogether.  They do like to claim that the Paraclete in the Gospel of John is a prophecy of the coming of Muhammad, but they don’t like the Christological content in the rest of John.  Their solution is to argue that the Bible has been copied and translated too many times too many times to be reliable anymore.  The ones who really know nothing about manuscript evidence or translation just say there are too many versions of the Bible and leave it at that.

This works very well for Muslims, because the majority of Muslims have never read any version of the Bible anyway; for that matter, half of all Muslims are illiterate and have never read the Qur’an either.  In some Muslim countries you can get a reduced prison sentence by memorizing the Qur’an in Arabic, even if you don’t understand Arabic.  For Muslims, the Qur’an is a book forever locked in Arabic; the entire Muslim world translate fewer books than small countries like Spain, so most Muslims have no exposure to translations of any literature at all, and don’t understand that in the English language, translations of the Qur’an are just as divergent as translations of the Bible.  On the other side, most atheists that I’ve talked to have never read either book, but of course, it’s easy to dismiss a book you’ve never actually read; it’s much more difficult to read it and base your conclusions off that.  Thanks to the internet, however, anybody could compare any Bible verse of any translation and see that for the most part (except for, say, the Joseph Smith “Inspired” Translation or the Jehovah’s Witness’s New World Translation), they all say the same thing.  Those that don’t really have no excuse.

4.  Christianity spread through Colonialism.

It’s astounding how many atheists I’ve encountered who don’t know that the Coptic Christian community in Egypt or the Roman Catholic community in Iraq pre-dated Islam.  Even if they’re aware, they’re prone to take the Muslim viewpoint that Christianity is the intruder in Muslim territory.  Rejecting all historical evidence to the contrary, both generally blame colonialism and European occupation for spreading Christianity.

Of course, they conveniently ignore Islamic conquest and occupation that can attribute to the presence of Islam in territories such as India-Pakistan.  But while empires and armies are a small contributing factor to the spread of a religion, the history and the facts just don’t support this claim about Christianity.  It’s funny that Muslims can accept 19th century conspiracy theories such as Jesus Christ dying a natural death in India (while at the same time they reject this theory’s proponent, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, as a heretic), yet they can’t accept the natural migration of Christianity.  Much of that is due to the Islamic complex that can’t understand anyone in their right mind converting from Islam.  Atheists like to believe this myth just because they find Christian proselytizing in the West annoying, but Muslims believe it for much more menacing reasons.  Muslims feel irrationally threatened by anyone practicing another religion in an Islamic country (don’t believe it?  just look at Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, Indonesia, etc.), but as long as they can frame the other religion as the remnant of a perceived occupation, then adherents of this religion are valid targets (seen as “oppressors” despite being the minority).  Sadly, even though Christians are one of the most persecuted minorities in Muslim countries, you won’t find much sympathy for them from the modern atheist.

5.  Christians and Muslims worship the same God.

Atheists usually don’t care about the major differences between religions since they view them all as superstitions.  Thus it’s no big deal for them to accept the Muslim position that Jews, Christians, and Muslims all worship the same God.  When members of other religions criticize the god of the Qur’an, Muslims love this canned response because it gives the appearance of inclusion and tolerance.  But as always in Islam, tolerance is on the Muslim’s terms.

Their response isn’t actually inclusive because it doesn’t acknowledge any truth to Christianity.  Rather, Islam is a syncretism of beliefs, so in reality this is a claim of exclusivism, because it only enables Christians to share the god of Muhammad on Islamic terms.   One really has to ignore that Muslims don’t worship Jesus as God, or believe in his death or resurrection, which are the essence of the Christian faith.  Muslims also are never willing to accept that they worship the same god as Bahai’s, because the Baha’i Faith redefines Islam the same way Islam redefines Christianity.

What’s really unusual is that some will hold to all of these myths even though they can’t all be true at the same time; who “invented” Christianity, Paul or the Nicene Council?  That’s really no surprise to me, I’ve heard atheists reject religion because of the problem of evil in the world in one breath and then in the next breath claim religion is a crutch to deal with the problems of life.  For Muslims, promoting these myths is usually from ignorance; just as Muhammad was not a scholar, most Muslims will never study any of Christian history themselves.  For atheists, these Islamic myths are a simple way to dismiss Christianity.  Although they don’t believe Islam either, the way Islam redefines Christianity is appealing to them: Jesus Christ is just a good man, the Apostle Paul is wrong, the Bible is unreliable, and Christianity is a forceful invader oppressing poor and defenseless Muslims.  Of course, they’ll also tell you that Muslims are just as bad as Christians, so at the end of the day, they really only support Muslims when Muslims oppose Christianity.  Since neither side is engaged in any research to uncover the truth, it will be up to Christians to be knowledgeable about the facts.

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Is the Bible Plagiarized?

It’s the predictable and inevitable reaction when you tell a Mormon that the Book of Mormon is plagiarized.  Their next argument is usually “if the Book of Mormon is plagiarized, then so is the Bible.”  It’s as if they’re all reading from the same script, but it’s really deeper than that: the Mormon thought-process is basically wired for self-destruction, so that any effort to discredit  the Book of Mormon prompts them to question the authenticity of the Bible.  If you won’t let them have their Book of Mormon, then they won’t let you have your Bible either.  Unfortunately, this many times results in ex-Mormons who are vehemently anti-religion altogether.

Of course, I can’t really blame them for asking this question.  It’s actually a very important one, which more Christians ought to know how to answer.  Every now and then I see an atheist copy+paste a spam essay on a Christian or religion message board insinuating this very thing.  It always consists of shameless ignorance on the definition of plagiarism mixed with outright deception, and yet it often goes unchallenged.

First of all, when Mormons attempt to argue plagiarism in the Bible, it’s because they don’t understand the difference between the Bible’s chronological sourcing and the Book of Mormon’s anachronistic sourcing.  Merely quoting a previously existing Scripture or sharing the same source as another isn’t in itself plagiarizing.  On the other hand, claiming your work was written 2,000 years ago while quoting texts that were unavailable at that time is definitely  plagiarism.  Quotes of earlier writings in the Bible don’t affect its credibility, but for the Book of Mormon to be true these similar passages cannot be mere quotations, they must be the author’s original idea or else the Book of Mormon is a 19th century fraud.

People often think plagiarism is just about failing to cite sources, when it’s more about taking credit for somebody else’s idea.  The Bible isn’t a term paper and shouldn’t be held to the today’s technical academic standards of citing sources.  Since footnotes were non-existent at the time, virtually every book in circulation at the time could be accused of plagiarism by those standards.  A term paper isn’t considered plagiarism just for failing to cite a reference, it becomes plagiarism when the author claims another work as their own, and this standard is all we need to use to evaluate the Bible.

pla·gia·rism/ˈplājəˌrizəm/ Noun: The practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own. 

Most of the quotes of the Jewish Scriptures in the New Testament already credit their source in the text anyway, so there’s no question there.  But what about the ones that don’t (for example, Mark 4:12)?  To suggest this is plagiarism, one would have to argue that Christ’s Jewish audience was either unfamiliar with their own Scriptures, or had no access to the book of Isaiah, and that the Gospel writer was trying to pass this off as Christ’s own, original composition.  Both premises are untenable and absurd.  Even if some members of the audience didn’t know where the material came from, that wouldn’t change the author’s intent.  On more than one occasion, I’ve actually had atheists tell me “the truth will set you free” (John 8:32) or that Jesus should have told his followers to practice what they preach (Matt. 23:3), completely ignorant that they were quoting Jesus.  Even that author’s ignorance isn’t plagiarism, therefore, because although the author is unaware of the source, these are common expressions and it’s implicit in our culture that his audience would know it’s not his own original anecdote.

The next allegation of Biblical plagiarism is usually to insinuate that Christianity stole concepts from Egyptian or Greco-Roman mystery religions.  That would probably require a separate entry to cover in detail, but it falls outside the scope of this article, anyway, since it doesn’t really fit the definition of plagiarism.  Without any direct quotes, such similarities can be coincidental, or they can even be deliberate polemic.

But what about the non-Jewish sources quoted in the New Testament?  The biggest mistake uneducated Christians make to this charge is to deny it outright.  Their failure to read Scripture as literature rejects any notion of pagan influence if the Bible is to be believed as the divinely inspired Word of God.  But the truth is there are actually several quotes from pagan authors in the Bible, however, this isn’t really the damaging threat to the faith that skeptics allege.  The usual suspects that get copy+pasted all over the internet are:

‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’  Acts 17:28

Here the Apostle Paul addresses a Greek audience in Athens and quotes Epiminedes’ Cretica (another line also quoted in Titus 1:12) and Aratus’ Phaenomena, correctly attributing the authorship to Greek poets.  The skeptic may have an issue with quoting pagans in Christian Scripture, but this definitely is not plagiarism.  Their real implication is that if Acts is inspired, then Cretica and Phaenomena must be too.  This presumption overlooks that many non-Christians are quoted in the New Testament, from the Pharisees to Pilate and even Gamaliel the Elder, with their words inadvertently expressing unintended theological truths.  No words in Scripture are considered inspired on the basis of the religious identity of the speaker; many times they are inspired despite this.

Another such quotes can be found in 1 Corinthians 15:33, with Paul quoting Menander’s comedy Thais:

Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.”

Here there’s no source cited, but the burden of proof would be on the critic to prove that Paul’s audience was unaware that this was not his own original idea, and that he was trying to pass it off as that.  The context suggests the quotation marks present in today’s translations, but non-existent at the time it was written.

The last item that gets copy+pasted is actually the most troubling, but also the most deceptive.  Unfortunately, I haven’t seen it addressed by anyone before.  The allegation is that Paul’s phrase below in bold:

“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,”  Philippians 2:12

is supposedly exactly the same as the Buddha’s last words.  If true, this could be potentially damaging to Christianity, since this context suggests no quotation, and would be presenting this as Paul’s own work.  There wasn’t much material available online to research, but my first hint that this was a manufactured controversy was the fact that not even Buddhist websites made this claim.  The second clue was that these skeptics never cited their source for the Buddha’s words.  I’ve learned the more unverifiable one makes their claims, the less likely they are to be true.

Trying to trace a particular quote within Buddhist scriptures can present a near-impossible challenge.  Fortunately, the Buddha’s last words was a useful lead, otherwise it may have been hopeless.  The entire Buddhist catalogue is colossally huge compared with the Christian canon, and no branch of Buddhism shares the exact same canon as another.  Transferred from oral Sanskrit to the abbreviated Pali language in the 1st century BC, the body of Theravada (one of the two principle denominations of Buddhism) scriptures became known as the Pali canon.  This can be confusing because this source is still considered the Pali canon even when translated into other languages.  To further complicate the matter, the Pali canon became the basis for other canons, as in Chinese and Tibetan, but while much of the suttas and contents are the same, the differences are substantial enough that these cannot be considered translations, but rather completely separate works.  For instance, the Tibetan omits the Buddha’s last words altogether in this passage.  With such a complex language diversity in the canon, translators must usually consult multiple different languages when rendering a passage in English, which produces a wide range of readings.

Eventually, I was able to home in on the exact passage, which I located in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta (The Great Passing), the 16th and longest sutta in the Digha Nikaya, one of five collections in the Sutta Pitaka, the second of the three principle categories in the Pali canon (yes, finding one verse is just a little easier than finding a needle in a haystack).

Using Wisdom Publication’s translation and versification:

“Then the Lord said to the monks, ‘Now monks, I declare to you: all conditioned things are of a nature to decay–strive on untiringly.’  These were the Tathagata’s [Buddha’s] last words.”  Digha Nikaya 16.6.7

Here we see that “strive on untiringly”, or even the alternative “accomplish earnestly” have no similarity to Paul’s “work out your salvation”, neither idiomatically nor thematically.  Giving the skeptic the benefit of the doubt, I did find a turn-of-the century English translation (Rhys David, 1890-1910) with these words, but this would be influenced by the Pauline wording, and not visa versa.  This is clearly an attempt at deception, since the skeptic who presents this argument always omits their source, an irony considering that’s a mistep usually made by those committing plagiarism, not by those accusing others of it.  It always amuses me when skeptics ridicule Christians for their beliefs, yet their reasons for not believing Christianity are verifiably false.

Understanding what is and what is not plagiarism is a prerequisite to being able to accuse others of plagiarism.  These accusations should never be taken lightly.  Proven plagiarism like in the Book of Mormon is reason alone to reject it, just as claims proven false should bring into question the integrity of the accuser.  The literary litmus test is the undoing of false scripture, whereas the Bible passes the test.  The study of source material in the Bible is not a taboo subject that Christians should avoid, instead it should be understood in the way that it affirms the Bible’s authenticity, as both literature and the Word of God.

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Enlightenment Fundamentalism

On the 8th season premiere of Family Guy titled “Road to the Multiverse”, characters Brian and Stewie, both voiced by outspoken atheist and series creator Seth McFarlane, visit several alternate realities, including an advanced utopian world where it is said Christianity never existed, resulting in an absence of the Dark Ages.  While the show has always been more renowned for its potty and fart jokes than its relevant social commentary, this below-the-belt jab at Christianity reflects an increasing trend in the atheistic revision of world history.  Christianity alone is the scapegoat for the pejoratively-named Middle Ages, and it is assumed that atheism would have advanced and saved humanity if only people had listened to reason.  Non-Christian societies, even atheist ones, are not equally held accountable for their lack of progress, which ironically, is often lagging behind Christian society.

Although Family Guy is a humorous cartoon, this myth is actually taken seriously by many people today.  The “new” atheism of Richard Dawkins has proven to be more than simply non-religious, but specifically anti-Christian.  They like to think of themselves as “enlightened” although they don’t actually mean this term in the spiritual sense that it suggests.  Their enlightenment is derived not from nonviolent Buddhism, but from the 18th century Age of Reason which led to the bloody Reign of Terror.  What this reveals is that the new atheism is purely a product of Western Civilization, and holds a revisionary concept of its history.  After all, the atheist is quick to point out the violent histories of religions, but will rarely acknowledge or even admit the violence in the history of atheism.  LIke 19th century Reconstructionist heretics, such as Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses, who avoid having to explain the dark periods in Christian history by simply rejecting it, so the new atheist has created their own historical reconstruction ignorant of actual history.  One such example is how atheists frequently quote Marx’s famous “religion is the opiate of the masses”, while ignoring the application of this credo that brought  the human rights violations of Stalin’s anti-religious purges in Soviet Russia.  And just as these proto-fundamentalist splinters of Christianity paved the way for 20th century fundamentalism, so now the new atheists have become Enlightenment Fundamentalists.

The Enlightenment Fundamentalist holds Christianity responsible for impeding all social, scientific, and intellectual progress, even though in most cases the reverse is actually true.  They commonly believe that religion is the only reason for opposition to abortion, while ignoring that anti-religious governments like Communist Romania had the most hostile policies against abortion in history.  Still, like many of their pet causes, they focus disproportionate time and energy to promote abortion in countries where it’s already legal.  Listening only to the modern atheist, one would be led to believe that gay rights had already been championed everywhere else in the world except for Christian-majority nations.  The reality, however, is that gay rights were pioneered almost exclusively in Judeo-Christian countries.  Predominately Hindu India only just decriminalized homosexuality in 2009.  Israel is the only non-Muslim nation in the Middle East, and also the only one where sodomy is not illegal, while its Muslim neighbors all have severe penalties including death and dismemberment.  Even the largest atheist nation, China, has harsher anti-gay policies than the “moral majority” United States.  Russia was fairly tolerant of homosexuality while they had religious freedom, but when Stalin came to power he purged religion and also imposed anti-sodomy laws that stayed on the books until 1993, repealed only after the collapse of the Soviet Union.  While gay rights advocates celebrate the repeal of DADT in the US, mostly nonreligious and atheist South Korea still punishes gays in the military for “mutual rape” with one year prison sentences.  If the Enlightenment Fundamentalist insists Christianity is holding back human progress, one should ask them why the atheists are still trailing behind the Christians.

As a product of Western Civilization, Secular Humanism is in fact a Christian heresy, not dissimilar to how Buddhism is the atheist heresy of Hinduism.  Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses have resentment for their parent ideology, and likewise Enlightenment Fundamentalists have strong resentment towards Christianity.  Also like most heresies, it reaches its conclusions through extreme addition or subtraction of its source.  Its subtractive quality is the reduction of monotheism by one, whereas its additive properties are evidenced in how most of its ideals and virtues are simply Christian principles taken to radical extremes.  Although admittedly in contrast to how it is sometimes practiced, Christianity was a religion founded on logic and reason, and the abuses and hypocrisies often identified with religion by atheists were actually addressed in its Scriptures.  A strength of atheism has been that unlike a religion, it is not a codified belief system with universal expectations; the moral shortcomings of the Soviet Union or the Khmer Rouge don’t reflect on all atheists in the same way that atheists like to hold all of Christianity responsible for equally isolated events like the Inquisition or the Crusades.  However, this lack of uniformity or orthodoxy has also proven to be a weakness that Enlightenment Fundamentalism seeks to remedy.

The Good Book: A Humanist Bible is the latest in an endless stream of publications to try to create an atheistic alternative to the Bible.  Although praised as audacious and unprecedented, in reality it was neither.  Casual browsing reveals that such a book is published about once or twice each year, and the material it includes is not as shocking or telling as the material it deliberately attempts to omit.  In trying to create a book of virtues, wisdom, history, and philosophy sanitized of religious influence, it has demonstrated a level of denial almost comparable to book burning.  While many atheists erroneously believe that Christianity suppresses alternate ideas or opinions, the irony is that these attempts to create an atheist worldview ultimately result in purging any mention of religion just like Stalin did.  All of the contents of the Humanist Bible have existed concurrently with Christianity, some of the authors like Sir Isaac Newton were in fact renowned for their faith, but you wouldn’t know that from reading through the atheists filters.  Christianity has supported secular history and ideas, but it seems the reverse is not the case.  While Enlightenment Fundamentalists have tried to make themselves synonymous with “freethinkers”, they seem more threatened by exposure to conflicting ideas than even the most cloistered monks.  Richard Dawkins goes so far as to suggest religious education of minors is child abuse, and some radicals call for the ban of all religion.

Enlightenment Fundamentalism seems to be becoming the very things atheists have criticized in religions, particularly Christianity.  Rather than supporting a true free market of ideas, it is trying to eradicate all those opposed.  It’s science is absolute, even when unproven.  For instance, Lady Gaga’s song, Born This Way, has become the new accepted theory of sexual orientation; even though science has yet to actually prove it, any dissent is unorthodox.  Steven Levitt’s abortion/crime rate connection in Freakonomics was debunked as statistical manipulation by the Wall Street Journal, yet the pro-choice movement was mostly unaffected, ignoring any science contrary to their pre-determined worldview.  Like some of the religious people they judge, what they choose to believe is more important than actual facts.

But most telling are their interpretive methods of Scripture, which like many Christian heresies, has simply taken bad hermeneutics to the extreme.  The Enlightenment Fundamentalist usually comes to atheistic conclusions not through just ignoring or disbelieving the Scriptures like traditional atheism, but actually going so far as to interpret the Bible more literally than even the most literalist fundamentalist Christians.  The infamous Skeptic’s Annotated Bible is written entirely from a hyper-literalist perspective, which expects its reader to suspend all literary understanding in Scripture.  There really are very few differences in approach to Scripture between an Enlightenment Fundamentalist and a Creationist; both insist the Genesis account of creation must be literal, the Enlightenment Fundamentalist just uses their literalism to dismiss all theism.  But they go even further, interpreting non-narrative works the same as narrative, and overlooking poetic license.  For instance, citing apparent contradictions Gospels apart can be seen as a reasonable attempt to question or discredit scriptural accuracy, but citing consecutive contradictory statements in the same book or passage, such as Proverbs 26:4-5, makes the critic look completely illiterate for failing to recognize an obvious and deliberate poetic device.  Atheists, Mormons, and Christian fundamentalists are actually all descended from the same flawed hermeneutical school of thought, yet ironically Christian fundamentalists and Mormons do have a (marginally) more literary approach to Scripture than Enlightenment Fundamentalists.

Brian and Stewie in “Road to the Multiverse”

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