Rants on Religion

Warning - This page and others linked to it contain claims of truth. If the concept of an objective absolute offends you, meditate on this question: How can the statment, "There is no truth" itself be true?

There are two ways of looking at the notion of God, inductive and deductive. Deductive reasoning begins with a premise and develops arguments from there. Most philosophy is deductive. In contrast, inductive reasoning begins with observable facts and attempts to find explanations that fit them.

My Faith Story

How Big is God?

Why Christianity Makes Sense

Creation and Evolution

Promise Keepers

Christianity and Right-wing Politics

The Problem with Paganism

Abortion

The Miracle in the Currach - a Gospel story


How Big is God?

I didn't come up with this analogy, but I like it:

Imagine a line stretching as far as you can imagine in both directions to your right and left. The line is Eternity. Now imagine space surrounding that line as far as you can imagine in all directions. As much as the space is bigger than the line, so is God bigger than the space you have imagined.

Pretty big, eh? We aren't done yet.

Now place a tiny, infinitestimal dot on the line of Eternity. A dot so tiny it's not even a millionth the size of a subatomic particle. Got it? The dot is ALL of space and time - the whole Universe, from Big Bang to the final shiver of the last atom as it cools in the far-distant future to zero degrees Kelvin - the whole universe described by Einstein, Hawking, Hubble, is that small in relation to God.

And to think that a God that BIG made a planet so very nice for us to live on. You'd think we'd be more grateful.


Why Christianity Makes Sense

The Skeptic

I was a hard-core skeptic for a lot of years. Born-again types would try to convince me of the rightness of their position, to no avail. The problem was that they would always appeal to the Bible as the basis for their argument. If you don't accept the authority of the Bible, then arguments based on it start from nowhere.

I have discovered that you don't have to begin with 'The Bible is the Word of God' in order to accept the truth of Christianity. You begin with history.

The Question

Did Jesus rise from the dead? That is the essential question. If he wasn't resurrected, then Christianity is a moot point. So we have to look at the Resurrection as an historical event. It's no good just taking it as a myth or legend - a nice story embellished over the years. If Jesus did not rise, then we can just go on about our business.

The problem of course is that we don't have a videotape of the event, nor are there any living witnesses. And we cannot subject the resurrection to scientific investigation - one, it is a supernatural event, outside the limits of science, and two, it is an historical event, not a repeatable experiment. So can we investigate it at all?

Certainly! We simply use the appropriate tools, and apply the appropriate tests. There is a standard of proof that one uses to determine the validity of a purported historical event. We do it all the time, in courts of law. The standard is preponderance of evidence. Did thus and such happen? Look at the evidence!

The Evidence

Leaving aside (for now) the subjective claims of personal experiences such as Saul on the road to Damascus, even leaving aside objective evidence of changed lives and lifestyles, there is ample evidence to convince an honest skeptic of the historicity of the Resurrection. (An honest skeptic is one who is open-minded enough to be actually willing to be convinced if given enough evidence. Thomas, for example, was willing to believe if he could put his finger into the holes in Jesus' hands. Many skeptics of Christianity are quite dishonest, however. They refuse to accept any proof or any argument. You cannot convince them with facts; their minds are made up. The only thing that will convince them is seeing the Risen Jesus face-to-face. If you believe the Book of Revelation, they will see Him, on the last day. Of course, then it'll be too late.)

So what is the evidence? We have eyewitness accounts. People who claimed to have seen the Risen Jesus talked to other people. Their stories were written down, and the written stories were copied, and the copies were copied. These stories, of course, form the Gospels. We do not have the autographs (original manuscripts) penned by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. But neither do we have the autographs of Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Julius Caesar, or other ancient documents. We do have copies of these, of course.

The more copies we have, and the older the oldest copy, the more certain we can be that the copies we have reflect the autograph. In the case of Plato etc., we have at most a dozen or so copies, with the oldest copy several hundred years younger than the manuscript.

The Gospels aren't even in the same category. There are THOUSANDS of copies of the New Testament that date from the first couple of centuries AD, and the oldest copies are dated to less than a hundred years after the originals. It is easily concievable that the oldest douments we have were copied directly from autographs. And the autographs themselves were written within living memory of the witnesses to the event. The first NT documents to be written, the letters of Paul, were written in the mid-50's, only 25 years or so after Jesus' minstry. John's Gospel was the last to be written, about 85. Remember that Jesus was born in 3 BC according to modern reckoning, so he died in AD 30. AD 85 is 55 years later, still within living memory. (John was a young man when he experienced these life-changing events. Those memories don't fade. Just ask a veteran of WWII or the early days of the Cold War.) The NT documents are also supported by external sources. For example, we know from archaeology that Pilate was governor of Judea at the same time that Caiaphas was High Priest in Jerusalem, and that the folks in Thessalonica really did call its officials politarchs, just as Luke reported in Acts 17.

Corpus, corpus, who's got the corpus? or, Alternative explanations for the empty tomb

The New Testament documents are clearly credible historical documents. And the oldest copies of the earliest Gospel, Mark, end with the empty tomb. It's just not credible to claim that the resurrection story was a "legendary accretion" or borrowed from Mithraism over the course of one or two centuries. In 55, Paul was preaching Christ crucified and risen. The resurrection was central to the earliest teachings of the Church, back when it was simply called "The Way" and the big debate was whether Gentiles would be allowed in without having to first convert to Judaism. Clearly, we have to find an explanation for the empty tomb.

The Easter Conspiracy

Some claim that the disciples hid the body, and have gone to great lengths to attempt to bolster that claim. However, the hypothesis falls apart instantly of its own weight. Three people can keep a secret only if two of them are dead. Hundreds of people who were reported to have witnessed Jesus after the resurrection. ALL of them either shared a hallucination or kept the dirty little secret? NONE of them, under pain of death, admitted that yeah, they really hadn't seen Jesus, they'd just gotten excited, swept up in the moment.... Nope. People will die for a lie if they think it's the truth, but no one dies for a lie that they know is a lie. The leaders of the early Church were persecuted big time, and James and Peter in particular were willing to die horrible deaths rather than recant, much less tell where they'd stashed the body. A conspiracy is simply not credible.

The Swoon

The swoon theory suggests that Jesus revived once placed in the tomb, woke up, rolled back the stone, overpowered the guards, and walked out. Right. A man is beaten with a Roman flagellum (people sometimes died from flogging), is nailed to a beam (the nails would have scraped the brachial nerves, causing severe sciatic pain in the arms and shoulders), is hoisted up hyperextending the arms and ribcage resulting in asphixiation (I have severe asthma, and I can tell you that asphixiation is no fun), bakes for three hours in the midday Mediterannean sun, just passes out, is stabbed with a spear in the side by a professional soldier and executioner, is left to hang as though dead until late afternoon with no medical care given, is then taken down, wrapped like a mummy with sticky resin-impregnated cloth, is placed on a cold stone slab, and REVIVES? If there was any life left in him, he'd die of hypothermia!

By the way - that Roman soldier with a spear wasn't delivering a death blow - he was simply verifying death. If the executioner wanted the victim to expire more quickly, he'd break the legs of the condemned. A few blows with the mallet used to drive in the nails would do it, or two soldiers would pick up a beam and smash it into the shins. With broken legs, the condemned man couldn't raise up to take the pressure off his hyperextended ribcage and draw a breath. He'd be dead in a few minutes. Of course, if the prisoner is already dead, there's no need to go to the trouble of breaking leg bones. So the old pro just takes his iron-tipped pilum and pokes it between the ribs, angled up into the heart. One of the things that asphixiation does to a body is to cause fluid - blood serum - to collect in the pericardium, the sac that surrounds the heart. So when the heart is pierced, serum and blood flow out. The professional soldier expects to see this, and verifies that Jesus is indeed dead. Medical description of the death of Jesus Keep in mind, now, that the eyewitnesses to the event whose testimony we read in the Gospels didn't know anything about hypovolemia and exhaustion asphixis. They just reported what they observed. This reinforces the argument that the Gospels are reliable historical records of eyewitness testimony.

The Conclusion

As Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had Sherlock Holmes say, "Eliminate all other factors, and the one which remains must be the truth." I was unable to escape the evidence: the most reasonable explanation for the fact of the existence of the Christian Church today is that Jesus did in fact rise from the dead.

The next question, of course, is, So What? A very important question indeed.

 


Creation and Evolution

Creationists, God love 'em, have concocted some truly outlandish 'scientific' theories in the effort to support the literal truth of Genesis, 24-hour days and all. C'mon, brothers and sisters, is it really within the character of God to make a young earth that appears old? God is not a practical joker (the duckbilled platypus aside). A great deal of mental effort is expended in arguments over origins, when desinations should be our primary concern.

The Bible is full of poetic, descriptive language: Daniel, Ezekiel, Revelation. So why must we insist on taking Genesis 1 literally? I have no problem at all with looking at the Hebrew creation story in the light of modern scientific investigation. It holds up reasonably well, if you take into account what ancient Mesopotamian peoples believed about the way the world worked. So what if "a day" gets stretched into a billion years? God is beyond time.

I like the bumper sticker that reads, "The Big Bang Theory: God said, 'Let there be light' and BANG! it happened!"

Works for me.

All that being said, there is ample evidence in this universe for intelligent, creative design. For one thing, this little planet we live on is rather amazingly well-suited to supporting life. (see reasoning above in The Problem With Paganism). For another thing, modern science has demonstrated that at the molecular level, life is irreduceably complex. That is, the systems that make cells work would not function if they were to be made any simpler. And they are so complex, and so intertwined, that it is really stretching the bounds of belief to maintain that they simply came into being, full blown, by chance.

The bottom line is that we are indeed fearfully and wonderfully made.


Abortion

No thinking person can possibly argue that the fertilized egg is not human. If it isn't human at conception, then at what point - which precise millisecond - does it become human? And what is it before it becomes human? A parrot? A frog?

Get a clue! That unique combination of 46 chromosomes (47 in the case of my stepbrother with Down's) define a human being. It is an undisputable scientific fact.

Now, that person may or may not survive until birth - about a quarter of all pregnancies end in miscarriage. And that little person may not survive to adulthood - a lot of kids die every year. But no sane person can possibly argue that humanity is not present from conception.

However, we can argue all day about the legal rights of that person. Society defines the legal rights that a person has, and the circumstances under which rights can be removed. For example, a person who is found guilty of murder AND who loses their subsequent appeals loses their right to liberty and perhaps even their right to life. There have been cases where a person who assaulted a pregnant woman causing a miscarriage has been found guilty of the murder of her unborn child. An unborn person can undergo surgery, can inherit property.

Isn't it odd, then, that this society also finds that a person can be deprived of the right to life simply by being the offspring of a woman that does not want to be a mother right now? No 'due process', no appeal. Just execution - for the crime of being inconvenient.


The Problem with Paganism

I know a lot of Pagans / Wiccans / Goddess-Worshippers. I feel sorry for them. Their gods are so small. At the root of it, Pagans worship Nature. All the variations of the Goddess are just various incarnations of Mama Nature. But did they ever stop to consider how this tiny backwater planet just happened to have the ideal configuration for the riot of life that exists?

Think about it: A little further from the sun, or a little closer, and the temperature would be all wrong. The Earth's axis is tilted, creating the seasons. We have a large, nearby moon that creates tides that wash clean the bays and estuaries of the coastlines. And did you ever stop to consider the timing of the moon's orbit? During the autumn, the days are getting shorter just when the harvest is coming in, and workers could really use some extra daylight. Aren't we lucky that the moon's orbit is such that right at that precise time we get a full moon right after sunset (the 'harvest moon'), extending the working day?

The Earth really does show evidence of intelligent design. So why worship the watch and ignore the watchmaker?


Opinions expressed are solely those of the author, Corrie Bergeron. Facts are facts, however!