Posts Tagged “Apologetics”
Have you heard the story of Uzzah? He was a follower of God who was struck down by God for daring to try and protect God’s special box. And today his story provides a troubling example of believers desperately trying to find someone, anyone to blame so they don’t have to blame God.
So I wanted to remember him - without excusing God.
How these papers have been placed in sequence will be made manifest in the reading of them. All needless matters have been eliminated, so that a history almost at variance with the possibilities of later-day belief may stand forth as simple fact. There is throughout no statement of past things wherein memory may err, for all the records chosen are exactly contemporary, given from the standpoints and within the range of knowledge of those who made them.
So begins the historical record of Dracula, written a mere seven years after the events described, and still one of the best known vampire tales. The appeal to historicity is of course nothing but a narrative framing device, but it reminded me a lot of Christian apologetics.
I hold a rather remarkable historical document in my hand. It’s a text that, despite its age, is still well-known today. I refer to Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the first of the seven genuine epics of Harry Potter.
We have more surviving copies of this than any other historical text from the late twentieth century. These include first editions written a mere five years after the events described. The copy I’m holding is from several years later, but we can still be confident that the text has been accurately preserved.
The words from Mendelssohn’s Elijah echo in my head:
If with all your hearts ye truly seek Me,
Ye shall ever surely find Me,
Thus saith our God.
It’s a song I like a lot (yes, still), and it seems like such a simple promise. But was it ever really true?
Last post, I asked whether my deconversion was inevitable, and decided that it felt pretty inevitable. However, obviously some people do hang onto their faith much longer than me, and I don’t think they’re being dishonest or stupid.
After quitting, I heard some suggestions from believers of things that might have kept me in the faith. There have also been some things I’ve seen in others that I’ve wondered whether they might have made a difference to me.
The gospels and Acts tell a story of how Christianity spread from Jews to the Gentiles. The epistles spend more time nailing down the theology of the takeover, plus taking opportunities for not-so-subtle digs at Jews who hadn’t accepted the new message.
In this post, I discuss three key epistles:
- Romans (where Paul sidelines the law in favour of grace and faith).
- Galatians (where Paul particularly attacks the Jewish idea that circumcision is required for salvation, and in passing appropriates many elements of Jewish religion).
- Hebrews (where the author presents Jesus as the answer to everything in the law and the prophets).
I also include some of the most relevant verses from other epistles.
In the gospels, Jesus is presented as the Jewish Messiah, fulfilling the Jewish prophecies and bringing a new covenant with God. Though he is very popular with the common people (mostly Jews), and though he selected Jewish disciples to carry on his message, there are also many disputes with the Jewish authorities, culminating in his crucifixion and subsequent resurrection. And the Jewish people are explicitly made to take responsibility for this death.
Then in Acts, the conflict escalates as the message is spread across the Roman empire and preached to the Gentiles. Again, this preaching work is mostly done by Jews, often preaching to Jews, but there is also a lot of conflict with Jews who don’t accept the new message. Both Jesus and his disciples appropriate Jewish scriptures to condemn Jews, displaying a hostility to Christianity’s roots that is best explained by the perceived threat of Judaism as a rival religion.
The New Testament claims that Jesus fulfilled many Old Testament prophecies, which apologists are quick to use as proof that he is the Jewish Messiah sent by God. However, as I pointed out in my previous post, many Jews don’t accept these prophecies. I have my doubts about them too. So how do they stack up?
Many Christians consider Christianity the logical conclusion of Judaism (a kind of Judaism Plus). They share the same God, and the Jewish scriptures are said to point forward to Christianity and Jesus Christ as God’s final revelation. So why do many observant Jews reject Christianity?
Over Easter, I listened to the audio-book Risen, a novelisation of the 2016 film of the same name. It shows the events surrounding Jesus’ death and resurrection through the eyes of Clavius, a skeptical Roman tribune assigned to find the missing body. The movie trailer confidently declares it “The most important man-hunt in history”.
It’s an interesting premise, and would be a decent novel if it focused on the story-telling. Unfortunately, though, it makes it quite clear that it’s got an agenda, and it makes far too many assumptions about the historicity of the gospel records.
There are many philosophical arguments for the existence of a god. In this post I am going to evaluate what the three gaps theory can tell us about four of these arguments.
I am not trying to find whether the arguments are correct (you can reasonably assume that I do not think any of them compelling). All I am considering for each argument is “Even if I accepted this argument, what is the most it could tell me about God?”
As a believer, I found it difficult to address or dismiss intellectual arguments for God’s existence, even when I doubted his presence. Though over time I did reject some of the arguments, I never did a systematic evaluation. I think I was concerned about whether I would get stuck: What if I couldn’t dismiss the intellectual arguments, but they didn’t help me recover my lost confidence?
One of the things that helped most to evaluate those arguments was a theory that I imaginatively call the “three gap theory”. It showed me clearly why common intellectual arguments couldn’t provide me all the certainty I needed to remain a Christadelphian.
In my previous post, I talked about the difficulty of being stuck in limbo by doubts that could not be resolved. Here is a list of some of the books that helped me out of that trap. They are the books that I wish I had read earlier (though I’m not sure I would have accepted their message earlier).
Books have always been an important part of how I understand and connect with the world. Here are some books that made an impression on me in 2016.