Posts Tagged “Christianity”
Last week, I went along to a local church’s Christmas play. Usually, it’s just a bit of fun for the children. I expected to hear claims about the True Meaning of Christmas, and was not disappointed (my take).
However, this time the superlatives were out. The Christmas story was “The Greatest Story Ever Told”. Baby Jesus was “The Greatest Gift Ever Given”. And this was all completely free, with no strings attached.
Recently, I heard some Christians discussing the account of Jesus’ crucifixion in Matthew 27. They were talking about how much he had gone through, and one said in a broken voice “He did all that for me”.
And I can remember feeling like that. But I now see that, like me, in focusing on Jesus they glossed over a verse far more tragic than any of those they talked about.
Christianity claims to be the logical continuation of Judaism - Judaism Plus. Which ends up with it trying to replace Judaism. I’ve discussed many of the problems I see with this claim in previous posts.
But I think for Christians who hold it there’s one more glaring problem: How do they know their religion hasn’t been similarly replaced by another religion?
The conflict between Christianity and Judaism didn’t just stop with the New Testament. They remained rival religions, and as Christianity gained more power it built on that New Testament foundation with terrible results. When I look in the writings of church fathers, kings, popes, and leaders of the reformation, time and again I see the same verses and concepts I highlighted in the previous two posts popping up - and the results aren’t good.
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.
As a believer, I came to the conclusion that replacement theology was the best interpretation of the relevant New Testament texts (discussed here). However, now after re-reading a lot of the relevant texts I see this as an attempted hostile takeover of Judaism. Not only did the New Testament authors appropriate important parts of the Jewish religion, but they also displayed contempt for those Jews who would not follow them. And I was shocked by how frequent and virulent the criticism was, because I just never saw it reading those texts as a believer.
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?
Many Christian denominations encourage children to make a commitment to Christianity before they are old enough to make an informed decision. This is then supposed to create a binding and unbreakable commitment to Jesus and often to your particular denomination, with the threat of specially severe future judgement if you ever walk away from it.
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.
I have been asked by a number of Christadelphians whether I will ever return. Depending on how the question is asked, my answers have ranged from “I don’t see any path back” to “I don’t rule it out”. But I think it very unlikely that I will ever return to being a Christadelphian. Here’s why.
Here in Australia, it’s Christmas time. The houses sport Christmas lights, the streets have Christmas decorations, and the shops are filled with busy shoppers buying gifts or completing their Christmas preparations.
But, in among the many Christmas traditions, one religion claims to have the true meaning of Christmas: A true meaning that has little to do with all the bustle and confusion. In past years, I made this claim myself. But how does it measure up?
I’ve described how my search for certainty about the existence of God led me away from traditional apologetics to atheism, most recently when talking about the three gaps theory.
However, there was a time when I actively preferred faith to evidence or argument, because it told me so much more about God. At that time you could reasonably have called me a fundamentalist Bible basher, and yet I already knew many of the nuances that would later lead me away from faith.
Continuing my evaluation of the three gaps theory, today I look at what it can tell us about six different reasons to believe the Bible (taken from the popular Christadelphian book The Way of Life).
As with the philosophical arguments yesterday, you can reasonably assume that I do not think any of the arguments presented here are compelling. All I am trying to consider is which gaps each argument could bridge if it were true.
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.
Five hundred years ago today, Martin Luther nailed 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church at Wittenburg, defiantly signalling the beginning of the Protestant Reformation and the end of the Catholic Church’s domination of the Christian world. Forthwith, believers would be free to study the scripture by themselves, and to be reconciled to God by faith without requiring the Church as an intermediary. Now is a time for believers to celebrate the importance of the Reformation and the advancement of the unity of the gospel.
That’s the story, anyway. Like much history, the reality is perhaps a bit more prosaic. Some thought Luther went too far and worked to have him excommunicated, while other reformers thought he didn’t go far enough and retained too many Catholic inventions. My own denomination thought that the Reformation wasn’t far enough back, and that we should return to the teachings of the first century church to better reflect True Christianity. Holy Wars were kindled, and an earnest desire for truth led to division (a story that has played out many times since).
Last month I attended an Australian Youth Orchestra concert. It included a performance of the Compassion song cycle by Nigel Westlake and Lior Attar, which is music I would highly recommend (their album won the 2014 ARIA Best Classical Album award).
The song cycle includes Arabic and Hebrew texts on compassion, drawn from the Tanach, the Mishnah, and the Hadith. As a result, some have suggested that it could reach across barriers in the Middle East, and remind Jews and Arabs of their shared values. But that got me thinking: How much can a few brief passages really express the main message of a sacred text?
Various atheist sites I visit comment about the curious fact that, while Christians in the US form the majority and dominate public discourse, many consider themselves to be persecuted. Often this “persecution” seems to be society not allowing them to impose their religious opinions on non-believers. Well, a friend shared an article with similar claims from a Hindu in India, including specific objections to those who eat beef. I think the parallels with Christianity are worth discussing.
In a number of places, the Bible contains different accounts of the same event that seem to contradict each other. However, if you are willing to assume that these contradictions are not actually contradictions, it is usually possible to figure out an explanation that reconciles them. And sometimes these reconciliations reveal a richer story with deeper lessons than we could have got from the individual stories. But can we rely on these stories?
Well, I’ve talked about the resurrection narrative, and I’ve talked about the birth narrative, so now seems a good time to talk about the trial and crucifixion narrative. This is mostly for completeness: unlike the birth and resurrection, the stories contain few supernatural claims, and it doesn’t seem so surprising that someone claiming to be the Messiah and upsetting established authorities might end up being crucified.
In a previous post, I stated that I don’t think we have enough evidence to demonstrate the resurrection of Jesus. And I don’t think this is likely to change. I can’t imagine what additional evidence could surface that would overcome the uncertainty of such an extraordinary historical claim.
But what about if there was a way to demonstrate it, once and for all? Time travel, for example. Would you take it? And if so, what might you learn from it?
A few days ago, I discussed a positive case for the resurrection story having grown over time. There is a similar case for Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem being a later addition, though it’s a lot simpler: Only Matthew and Luke make explicit claims about Jesus being born in Bethlehem, they have completely separate stories, and prophecy gives a good reason for them to want to claim a birth in Bethlehem.
Today is Easter Sunday. A time when many Christians around the world celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. For some, it is just a matter of faith: they are completely confident that their Lord was raised, and no evidence is required. For others, this is considered one of the strongest arguments for the truth of Christianity. In fact, some skeptics who have attempted to disprove it came to the conclusion the evidence is too strong, and became outspoken Christian apologists.
A few days ago, I questioned the argument that I considered the weakest: that 500 believers saw the resurrected Christ at one time. It was always my intention to go back and address the entire resurrection claim, and discuss why I don’t consider it compelling.
In a letter to the Corinthians, Paul states that the resurrected Jesus Christ appeared to 500 brothers at one time. With Easter coming up this week, this is one of the resurrection claims that will be talked about as historical fact. Believers lean heavily on this record because it is viewed as a very early creed with no time for embellishment. But can it bear the weight?