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Revelation, Revolution

14 Dec

So apparently there’s a new book out about how the Bible was really put together. Many Christian scholars and seminary students know this, but they preach the simplified versions to their congregations. I wrote in an email to a friend (well, ex-friend and ex-gf) that if she wanted to get the real picture about Christian origins, she would have to go to a Religious Studies department in a university, not her local church.

This is a review on Amazon.com:

Jack Good is an ordained pastor in the United Church of Christ, retired from decades of preaching in New York and Illinois. In “The Dishonest Church,” Good reveals that most of his fellow pastors in the mainstream American churches are systematically preaching from their pulpits teachings which they themselves know to be blatant lies.

Why the systematic lying?

The basic problem, Good explains, is a divergence during the last several centuries between what he calls “academic” Christianity and what he dubs “popular” Christianity. As early as the Renaissance, scholars such as Erasmus began applying the intellectual tools that were being developed in science, history, etc. to better understand, purify, and solidify their Christian faith.

By the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, an increasing number of scholars and intellectuals were coming to realize that Christianity could not actually be historically true. In the nineteenth century, the floodgates opened. From David Strauss’s “Life of Jesus” to Albert Schweitzer’s “The Quest of the Historical Jesus,” scholarly research proved that the Bible was a crazy mish-mash of garbled history, Jewish mythology, and fantasies based on pagan stories of “virgin” births, resurrected savior gods, etc.

By the early twentieth century, F. C. Burkitt, in an introduction to Schweitzer’s famous book, could confidently assert as an established fact among educated people, “Every one nowadays is aware that traditional Christian doctrine about Jesus Christ is encompassed with difficulties, and that many of the statements in the Gospels appear incredible in the light of modern views of history and nature.”

How can it be that most Americans are ignorant of this?

Good opens his book with a telling anecdote:

“One of my clergy friends boasts of a comment he made in an interview with a pastoral search committee. A somewhat hostile member of the committee demanded to know if this prospective pastor believed in a literal virgin birth. My friend replied that his views on the virgin birth were the same as those of St. Paul. The committee member nodded approvingly, and the discussion went on to other matters.”

As Good explains, his friend was counting on the fact that the members of the committee would be ignorant of the fact that nowhere does St. Paul make any reference at all to the virgin birth: scholars assume Paul had no acquaintance whatsoever with the doctrine. Thus, Good’s friend, who did not believe in the Virgin Birth, could “honestly” claim to hold the same view as St. Paul!

Good adds, “Clergy tend to see such moments as victories over the benighted folk who occupy church pews.”

So, are America’s pastors and religious leaders simply pathological liars?

Much of the explanation, Good claims, is simply economic self-interest. He states that “my fellow professionals… are motivated by fear… clergy fear the loss of their jobs… These professionals… are killing the church by their lack of courage.”

But Good also titles one of his sections “Pleasure in Power,” declaring, “I fear that denominational officials and professional theologians perpetuate the present state of affairs because they have come to enjoy too much their role as sole owners and manipulators of the sacred symbols. Consciously or unconsciously, they leave their church members in a state of semi-darkness because otherwise they would have to share prestige and authority.”

Finally, Good concedes that many of his colleagues honestly fear that the adults in their congregations simply lack the maturity to handle the truth and that telling the truth would therefore result in the destruction of Christianity.

The bulk of the book consists of Good’s attempts to argue, based on his own experience, that such fears are groundless.

These attempts are unconvincing.

Good has managed to avoid lying to his own congregations, and his churches did not collapse. He concludes that his truthful form of Christianity can survive and even prosper. He argues that there are many “Christians in exile” whose orientation towards life finds “an especially luminous form in Jesus of Nazareth.”

His view is short-sighted. There are certainly many Americans who suspect, or know, that the Virgin Birth and Resurrection did not actually occur but who nonetheless wish to be members of a “Christian” church. But is their desire really a result of any personal fascination or adoration for a purely human Jewish carpenter/religious reformer who lived two thousand years ago? Or is it more a matter of familial inertia and social conformity that makes it emotionally difficult for them to make a completely clean break with Christianity?

Good argues that the popular view of Jesus as “an adult equivalent of the child’s invisible friend,” always there to smooth over the difficulties of life, is untrue to the Gospels. On the contrary, “Jesus never intended to be an answer man. Instead of making human problems go away, he seemed intent on creating a new set of concerns. Through both words and example, he defined the requirements of discipleship… even to the point of joining him in crucifixion.”

Yes, and some of us do indeed find this Jesus for grown-ups more inspiring than the Sunday-school Jesus of “Jesus loves me, this I know…”

But why make Jesus the sole or primary center of such inspiration? Why should such concern focus primarily on Jesus rather than on Socrates, Buddha, Tolstoy, the pagan martyr Hypatia (murdered by a brutal Christian mob) or scores of other thoughtful, courageous human beings throughout history?

The appeal of Christianity for rational, educated people who know the truth is simply nostalgia. If everyone comes to know the truth and there are no more “true believers,” Christianity will fade away. Good’s variety of “progressive” Christianity is simply a temporary rest stop on the road from orthodox Christianity to the final destination of outright atheism.

Good forthrightly declares, “The lying must stop in all Christian congregations.” Yes, even if the ultimate result is the end of Christianity.

I noticed this a while ago:

It’s probably even deeper than that. Yeah, these preachers need to make a livelihood… but think about it. They had to pay for their education. They might have entered seminary or biblical scholarship under the pretense that everything they learned in church (the simple stuff) was true: inerrancy, original autographs, consistency, etc. but halfway through their seminary discovered that this stuff wasn’t as cut-and-dried as they naively thought prior to entering seminary.

What are they gonna do at this point? Wash all that money on education down the drain? No – they have to continue their investment! And make sure that their investment pays off – by getting a job and perpetuating the “simple” version of biblical criticism to their congregations.

It’s more than just securing a paycheck. It’s securing an investment

So what will happen once the real story about Christian origins comes out? The things that I, and many people smarter than me (like the scholars), know? Will it be the end of Christianity, or will it simply morph into some other form? I fear that it’ll be more of that same dilemma I noted a while ago. I’m trying to do my part by posting some stuff on facebook, but I would like to do more.

If it comes to choosing between faith and objectivity, people will cling to faith because it feels good. Necessarily, this will lead to deception; which is what our intellectuals have been doing to us common folk since the dawn of history to keep us in line.

Sometimes, some of us are fed up with the bullshit and look to see if there really is an intimidating man behind the booming voice.

There isn’t.

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Posted by on December 14, 2009 in apologetics, early Christianity

 

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