Monday, May 22, 2006

A bumpy Bible ride for believers.

I want to subject you, my reader, to some Christian logic. So, as Bette Davis would say, “Buckle up, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.”

I recently visited a website run by a fundamentalist minister who is very proud of being on the fringes of the Right Wing. Here is what he had so say:

The fact is, many believe there is more evidence that Julius Caesar existed than Jesus, and that is not the case. Jesus' existence is only questioned because of the religion that stemmed from Him. Now at this point many secularists claim that's ridiculous, that they are only after an objective search for the truth. But the evidence is against them, and their ridiculous tin foil hat conspiracy theories concerning the reliability of the New Testament and Jesus' existence have yet to hold water under any scrutiny in the community of historians and scholars, be they secular or Christian.

Now note his assertion carefully. He is asserting that there is evidence that Jesus not only existed but that he was God in the flesh, that he died and rose from the dead. He is making an assertion that there are undeniable “facts” which prove the fundamentalist viewpoint of Jesus. And he is asserting that anyone wo dismisses this is proposing a “tin foil hate conspiracy” theory of some kind.

I don’t assert any conspiracy. Period. I don’t think there is a plot to foist false beliefs intentionally on anyone. I think these people are serious. They believe what they say. More the pity for them really. At least if they were crooks you could say they are merely dishonest individuals pushing a lie for some personal gain. Instead I believe that most of them honestly believe the rubbish that they push. They are not crooks. They are dumb. It’s a shame really.

Now this minister goes on to lay out the facts which can not be denied. Here is his own list:

FACT #1: Broken Roman Seal FACT #2: Empty Tomb FACT #3: Large Stone Moved FACT #4: Roman Guard Goes AWOL FACT #5: Grave Clothes Tell a Tale FACT #6: Jesus' Appearances Confirmed Those denying or questioning the existence and in fact resurrection, of Jesus, find themselves up against an overwhelming amount of evidence that has yet to be proven false.

All six of these “facts” have one thing in common. There is no source for them except the New Testament. We have references to Jesus in manuscripts of the period but very few of them. Outside Christian literature there is no reference to of any major significance verifying any of the major doctrines of the Christians. To say that the New Testament proves Christianity is like saying the Book of Mormon proves Mormonism or Health and Science: Keys to the Scriptures proves Christian Science.

We can find a few, scant references over the first few generations of Christianity where non Christian sources mention them and their beliefs. But there is no document that proves Jesus was placed in a tomb with a Roman seal on it. There is no evidence outside the New Testament that believers in Christ appeared at the tomb only to find it empty. There is nothing to indicate that a large stone sealing such a tomb was move or that guards standing outside the tomb were ever stationed there and then left their post. There is no record outside the New Testament about empty grave clothes and no first hand account of seeing Jesus after his death exists.

All of this is found only in the holy book of Christians. And no version of any of these Gospels goes back to even 20 years within the time of Christ. There is not one shred of any Christian Gospel that goes to the time of Christ. And the evidence is that the four main Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were not written by the men after whom they were named.

While there are disputes over the dates of the earliest manuscripts, or shred of manuscripts, the earliest such piece of any gospel dates from several decades after the death of Jesus.

So there is no contemporary document verifying any of the six “proofs” this minister uses. And there is no such proof from outside the circle of the faithful. It would be one thing if a document from Rome survived showing that one Jesus of Nazareth was crucified and placed in a sealed tomb. That would prove something though it would prove only his death and burial not his resurrection. But no such Roman document survives.

But let us assume, for a minute, that the early gospels were totally accurate in what they portrayed regarding Christ and his life. None of them exist. We have copies of copies of copies of copies and so on. And this was not the days of Xerox. A copy was one many copying in his own handwriting the hand-written manuscript of another man. Now over the centuries thousands of such fragments of hand-written copies of the New Testament have turned up. And what do they show? They show that as scribes copied the text they also changed the texts. Sometimes it was an error made by one person.

So he would change a word and those who copied his manuscript after him would repeat his errors and usually introduce some of their own. In other cases things were deleted or added because the scribe felt they out not be there or they ought to be there --- whatever the case may be. When the church had conflicts over doctrines verses could be added that seemingly verified one side of the debate or the other.

One former fundamentalist, who spent his life studying how the New Testament came to us, says that over they years there have been more changes to the actual text than their are words in the text. (See the bottom of the archieves here.)

So not only do we the problem of no contemporary evidence for the main doctrines concerning Jesus but we have no secure method to transmit those beliefs through the centuries. And then these gospels were written in Greek and translated into the various modern languages. And there is a lot of leeway when it comes to translations. And I will tell you something you may not know. When these manuscripts were translated into English much of it came from Latin translations which were translations from the original Greek. And there are places in the world where the English translation is then translated again into the local language. So the final user gets a Bible that has gone through four translations from the original Greek.

And the original Greek was a copy of a copy of a copy by men prone to change things accidentally and intentionally as they went along. And what these men started with were not the written records of anyone who actually saw the events recorded. Most of the New Testament was written by one man, Paul. And Paul never met Jesus in his life. Paul did not witness the crucifixion.

So you end up with second or third or fourth person accounts written decades later, copied and recopied and altered in the process. Out of this mishmash of unreliability, distortion, fakery, mistakes, etc. you get the New Testament. And this collection, and this collection alone is the source for the six proofs this minister holds forth. What a flimsy piece of gossamer on which to hang a faith.

And now for the height of irrationality, proof this man is incapable of logic and reasoning. He writes: “Those denying or questioning the existence and in fact resurrection, of Jesus, find themselves up against an overwhelming amount of evidence that has yet to be proven false.”

Notice how he demands a reversal of the burden of proof. Now anyone denying the fantasies of another has to prove the fantasies are a lie or wrong. A man asserts to this fundie that there are invisible fairies dancing around the room that no one can perceived through their senses except for the man making the assertion. How would our “Right-Wing Christian” prove that false? You can’t.

There is a reason that one is presumed innocent “until proven guilty” in court. The reason is that you can’t prove innocence. Nor are individuals found “innocent” of a crime but “not guilty”. If I said you are murderer your first reply would be to demand some evidence. At the very least you would ask who it was you allegedly killed or perhaps where. If I stood mute waiting for you to prove innocence you could not do it unless you could prove where you were 100% of the time in your life with witnesses who can verify every second. Not likely. The burden is on me to show who you killed, when you did it, how you did it, etc. I have to prove my assertion.

Our Right-Wing Christian friend has to prove the fables of the New Testament. No one has to prove them false as he seems to think. What he has to do is prove them reliable and given their checkered history I don’t think he can do that. We already know that most the New Testament was written decades after the events they describe and written by people who were not themselves eyewitnesses to the events they do describe.


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