Sunday, April 20, 2014

Book Review: Bart Ehrman How Jesus Became God

Even though I am dubious about Ehrman's claim that Jesus was a real historical person, I was eager to read his latest book, How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee. Having read his Lost Christianities, I expected to find a rehash of the various factions of Christianity that lost out in theological disputes, but the book is more about the mainstream church's transition from belief in a man who would be the Messiah to a god-man that had always existed and always will.  These are the basic stages of Christ's transformation:

Jesus the Man:
Jesus called himself "Son of Man," which was a synonym for The Messiah (I never knew this!). The Messiah would be the new king of Israel after the defeat of the evil powers that held it, i.e., Rome or possibly corrupt Jewish leaders. He was one of many messiahs at the time, and he was crucified for the crime of stirring up dissent during Passover, traditionally a time of protests and political trouble-making. Having designs on the title of "King" in the Roman Empire was his crime against the state and the reason for his execution.  Raising a ruckus in the temple was a good way for a would-be Messiah to attract attention.  So according to Ehrman, it's not beyond possibilities that Jesus was an apocalyptic rabbi who was a trouble-making rabble-rouser in the eyes of both the Jewish & Roman authorities.

Jesus the Corpse:
Jesus's body was taken to a tomb, probably not by his sissy followers who fled Jerusalem. Supposedly, Joseph of Arimathea asked for the body to give it a decent Jewish burial, but Ehrman doubts this. Joseph of Arimathea was part of the ruling class of Jews (the Sanhedrin), and would not have dignified Jesus this way. But assuming he took pity on the family and wanted to do "right" by the body, let's assume he really did get buried in a tomb...

The Empty Tomb:
All four gospels differ in their description of the discovery of the tomb. Ehrman places more trust in stories that are repeated in more than one place (the first three gospels count as one because they're related, except where they differ - and those differences can count as a "place") Because no two stories agree, he thinks all four may have been made up by grieving followers whose "Messiah" turned out to be just another crazy Messiah wannabe axed by a Roman ruler.

Jesus the Risen Man
Ehrman thinks the idea of a risen Christ was very early, before the earliest writings (i.e. Paul's letters), because the Messiah was supposed to triumph in the end, not suffer a humiliating execution.  But merely defeating death wasn't enough: he had to be a Messiah in some sense, or else he would be just like Lazarus, the man Jesus brought back to life.

Jesus the Exalted Man
Judaism had a kind of spirit-world hierarchy of magical sky-beings, much as the Greeks did.   This gave Jesus's followers a precedent for Jesus being elevated after death.  Though Jesus was considered a regular person in his lifetime, his followers quickly reached the conclusion that he'd been exalted by god to a higher status after death (ascended).  This view would only work if the virgin birth and holy spirit business was a-historical, which it most likely is because of non-confirmatory versions in the writings (according to Ehrman). 

Jesus the God-Man
Soon after Paul's conversion, or perhaps even earlier, Christians hecame dissatisfied with the idea of Jesus being merely an exalted man.  From then until the Council of Nicea in 325, various factions, led by bishops, priests, or theologians, posited different versions of Jesus's godly essence.  These ranged from him having been elevated from man all the way to god status, to having been a god rather than a human, to the final winning idea of the Trinity.  The Nicene Creed, which resulted from this debate, uses language that delineates the winning position.

Jesus / God / Holy Spirit: The Trinity
It seems inexplicable to me now that this concept could have been a unifying principle of Christianity, unless perhaps being forced to accept a ridiculous idea creates a kind of cognitive dissonance situation: this idea is so ridiculous it must be true!   ...but that's my theory.  In the history of Christianity it is indeed one of the few things that all the factions now agree on.  The final dispute was whether Jesus was part of God's being from God's beginning ("begotten"), or whether he was "made" by God at some later time.  They decided he was "begotten, not made."  Along the way they decided that Jesus & God had to be one, because both couldn't be a god in their monotheistic worldview, but Jesus couldn't be a lesser spirit being. The Nicene Creed originally ended with a condemnation of those who disagreed with the Trinity of God having three parts, but apparently later there was a decision to just pretend heretics didn't exist.

Ehrman started with the parts of the Bible that could have been historical and ended with the Trinity, which was based purely on the conjecture of believers.  It shows just how desperate the Church was to seem logical and reasonable, and I have to hand it to them -- they did create a powerful force by defining themselves as "right" and others as "heretics."  After 313 Christians were no longer persecuted by the Romans.  They were persecuted by each other.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in early Christian theology, believer or non-believer.  Considering how dense the scholarly writing on this kind of thing tends to be, it's very readable and more knowledgeable than the dribble put out by religious presses.

Yes, I've been reading more than writing lately.  My old computer bit the dust and I'm getting used to a new one.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Another One Bites the Dust

No, not Grand-daddy Phelps, though the passing of the Westboro Church founder is noteworthy.

I'm announcing the resignation of megachurch founder Bill Gothard after allegations of sexual misconduct. This is not some small-town preacher. His fans include the glassy-eyed Duggar family *ptui* and preacher turned politician turned pundit, Mike Huckabee. He's one of the leaders of the home-school movement. His "Advanced Training Institute" is one of the main squawkboxes for Christian moral superiority. You can learn low-level skills at his "Verity Institute." Or earn a Certificate in Basic Life Principles by taking courses such as Biblical Life Principles V, in which "students focus on the Fall of man as the cause of society’s problems."

So in true churchy scandal tradition, he is a leader in the "holier-than-thou" sanctimonious cult tradition that seems to create big-time hypocrites. And what is he accused of? He didn't just have a fling with one buxom secretary - he molested or harassed over thirty women!

Fortunately, some of the victims of his backwards theology have been able to leave it behind them. Check out "Recovering Grace"

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

How's Your Amygdala?

The amygdala is a part of the brain with many roles, and including a role in the development of empathetic or "moral" behavior.

How can you be good without God?  How can you be good with the Christian god?  How can parents believe in a "loving" Father could doom his kids to an eternal lake of fire, or wipe them all out in a global flood, or kills his only good kid then lets the brats off the hook?  How can they raise loving, moral children?  To the extent that they do, it's due to behaving like all the other social animals rather than bringing up kids to fear God.

This TED talk covers the neural basis of morality and proposes ways to change the brain.  (Won't work for murderers, though)

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Discovery Institute Shills vs. Ball State

Apparently, the DI has realized a lawsuit would be a waste of time and money, so they've gotten four state legislators to shill for them:

The Discovery Institute says four state legislators led by Senate Education Committee Chair Dennis Kruse, R–Auburn, have sent a letter to Ball State University’s president and board of trustees expressing concerns about the university’s treatment of BSU physicist Eric Hedin and its “imposition of a speech code censoring faculty speech on intelligent design.”  ...

...“about whether improper procedures were followed while investigating professor Eric Hedin’s course, and whether an ad hoc committee appointed to investigate him was filled with persons with conflicts of interest...We are also concerned about the cancellation of Hedin’s class and the policy you announced last summer restricting faculty speech on intelligent design. We are disturbed by reports that while you restrict faculty speech on intelligent design, BSU authorized a seminar that teaches ‘Science Must Destroy Religion.’ ... The legislators promised to send additional questions to BSU in coming weeks.
This sounds like it will be the exact same letter filled with ridiculous questions that the Discovery Institute sent to the university last summer.  Apparently they're still butthurt about this thing, and they've managed to get a creationist sympathizer (who unfortunately is the chair of the Senate Education Committee) to embarrass himself for them.

Desperate times call for desperate measures?  From the sounds of things last summer, I was expecting to see them sue.  Apparently they realize they can't win in a fair fight so they're trying this now.  Ball State is their new "wedge."

Thursday, February 27, 2014

R.I.P. Tim Wilson

One of the funniest guitar comics ever.  He had a heart attack and passed away yesterday. This is my favorite of his many great songs:

Sunday, February 23, 2014

February 22 Link Round-up

Lawrence Krauss responds to Ken Ham's misrepresentation of the scientific method.

Honey Boo-Boo's new niece has an extra thumb. Says grandma, "She's highly evolved."

Parents who let a second child die because of their "faith" will spend at least three years in prison.  They were on probation for the death of another child at the time, so they ought to be doing time for that now, too.  And let's hope no more parents will get probation for letting a child die!

The next time an apologist comes around I'm going to borrow this idea: Apologist bingo!

An Indiana church is just too happy about vouchers

Not much this week.   Even youtube was rather quiet.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

February 15 Link round-up

Getting back on track...

We atheist bloggers may not need to create link round-ups anymore now that is online.  Their editor is soliciting suggestions.

DNA proves that funny-looking skulls from Peru were not human. If there isn't already an episode of Ancient Aliens featuring these coneheads, there will be soon!

Jason Rosenhouse watched HBO's "Questioning Darwin" so you don't have to.

This is old but it's news to me.  Turkey's great Christian buildings, turned into museums during the secular era, are now being turned into mosques, including the Hagia Sofia, one of the most famous Christian cathedrals of all time.  (Wikipedia may need updating)  The Archbishop of Canterbury visited and thinks it should not be converted.  Well, East and West Christianity finally agree on something.  (More background on Turkey in the New York Times)

The jet stream may be changing.   How many other changes have to happen before global warming deniers get with reality?  Oh yeah, the big change would be if big oil stopped funding big PR firms.

Online deaf pastor comes out as an atheist.  The usual cause: he actually thought about what he was preaching.

Freethought books donated to prisoners.  Of course USA today had to come up with a snappy headline:  "Atheist groups cater to a captive audience" ... as if faith groups have been doing this since forever!

Video of the week (actually an oldie but goody): Morality in animals