A Marriage of the Ontological and Moral Arguments in Support of the Christian God

The intention of the present blog is to offer support for the existence of the Christian God by marrying several ontological and moral arguments. The blog begins with a discussion of the history of the ontological argument, followed by an integration of the moral argument and the example of Jesus Christ.

The Ontological Argument

Centuries ago, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Saint Anselm (1033-1109 AD), formulated the ontological argument, which he describes in the Proslogium as follows:

“[Even a] fool, when he hears of … a being than which nothing greater can be conceived … understands what he hears, and what he understands is in his understanding.… And assuredly that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, cannot exist in the understanding alone. For suppose it exists in the understanding alone: then it can be conceived to exist in reality; which is greater.… Therefore, if that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, exists in the understanding alone, the very being, than which nothing greater can be conceived, is one, than which a greater can be conceived. But obviously this is impossible. Hence, there is no doubt that there exists a being, than which nothing greater can be conceived, and it exists both in the understanding and in reality.”

Anselm’s argument can be summarized as follows:

  1. God is the greatest conceivable being.
  2. If we can conceive of something greater than God, then that would be God.
  3. Nothing greater than God can be conceived in the mind.
  4. It is greater to exist in reality than merely in the mind.
  5. God must therefore exist not merely in the mind, but in reality as well.
  6. Therefore, God exists.

To explain this simple concept, Anselm used the example of a painting. He asked which is greater: the artist’s idea of the painting or the painting itself? Obviously the painting itself is greater as the painting exists not only in the mind of the painter but in reality.

Alvin Platinga reformulated the argument using a conception of God as a being that is “maximally excellent” in every possible world. Maximal excellence in every possible world is “maximal greatness.” The properties of a maximally excellent being are omniscience, omnipotence, and moral perfection.

Platinga’s argument can be summarized as follows:

  1. A being has maximal excellence in a given possible world W if and only if it is omnipotent, omniscient and wholly good in W; and
  2. A being has maximal greatness if it has maximal excellence in every possible world.
  3. It is possible that there is a being that has maximal greatness.
  4. Therefore, possibly, it is necessarily true that an omniscient, omnipotent, and perfectly good being exists.
  5. Therefore, (by axiom S5) it is necessarily true that an omniscient, omnipotent and perfectly good being exists.
  6. Therefore, an omniscient, omnipotent and perfectly good being exists.

Other ontological arguments have been presented, which vary slightly from the above. Each version is not without its skeptics. As an example, skeptics have replaced a maximally excellent being with a maximally excellent achievement (such as the creation of the universe) or conception (such as the perfect island). I don’t find these arguments compelling because the “creation of the universe” is an act and the conception of a “perfect island” is a place, a creation. Both are products of a maximally excellent being, our Creator, of whom nothing greater can be conceived.

Another criticism states that the arguments for God include presumptions about His characteristics (omniscient, omnipotent, and wholly good). Conceiving of maximally excellent knowledge is omniscience; conceiving of maximally excellent power is omnipotence; and conceiving that the perfect being is wholly good is a product of our conscience and our innate desire to equate goodness and love with maximally excellent morals.

At issue, however, is that we have defined maximally excellent morals as goodness and not evil. One might argue that we can equally conceive of a maximally supreme evil being, characterized by omnipotence, omniscience, and being wholly evil. For example, it is not impossible for me to conceive of a giant wholly evil monster. I could make the argument that said monster must exist because I conceived of the monster and applied it to the argument. Accordingly, without further explanation, skeptics could build a case against the arguments for a supreme or maximally excellent, wholly good being with its supreme or maximally evil counterpart.

According to C.S. Lewis (1952, p. 43) “There are only two views that face all the facts. One is the Christian view that this is a good world that has gone wrong, but still retains the memory of what it ought to have been. The other is the view called Dualism. Dualism means the belief that there are two equal and independent powers at the back of everything, one of them good and the other bad, and that this universe is the battlefield in which they fight out an endless war…But it has a catch in it.”

If one power is inherently and independently good, while the other is inherently and independently bad, we should have had experiences with both. But we do not. While we are witnesses to people who strive to do good for goodness’ sake, we are not witnesses to people who strive to do evil for evil’s sake. Instead, we are witnesses to people who started out good and something occurred which perverted them, whether it be pleasure, power, money, safety, security, fame, or sex.

Christianity agrees with Dualism that this universe is at war. But it does not think this is a war between independent powers. It thinks it is a civil war, a rebellion, and that we are living in a part of the universe occupied by the rebel” (Lewis, 1952, p. 45-46). The rebel is the fallen angel: Satan.

“You were the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God” (Ezekiel 28:13). You were anointed as a guardian cherub, for so I ordained you. You were on the holy mount of God; you walked among the fiery stones. You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you. Through your widespread trade you were filled with violence, and you sinned. So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God, and I expelled you, guardian cherub, from the fiery stones. Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor. So I threw you to the earth” (Ezekiel 28:14-17). “I reduced you to ashes on the ground in the sight of all who were watching. All the nations who knew you are appalled at you; you have come to a horrible end and will be no more” (Ezekiel 28: 18-19).

Accordingly, there is no greater conception than that of a maximally excellent, wholly good being. Its counterpart cannot be true. The ontological arguments formulated by Anselm and Platinga are valid. The very fact that humanity values, recognizes, and strives for goodness underscores the existence of the one who made and continues to make that happen.

Furthermore, consider the way pride always comes before the fall. If we were on an unguided planet, the proud and selfish would thrive. They don’t. Pride is the ultimate sin, which led to Satan’s fall. Pride is the sin that leads to all other sins. God admonishes the proud.

The Moral Argument

The very fact that all humans of sound minds have the ability to distinguish what is right from what is wrong suggests the presence of one who made that happen: a moral lawgiver. All humans of sound minds have the ability to conceive of moral perfection as shaped by the values of love, kindness, honesty, justice, benevolence, and truth. Since we have such conceptions, we have an objective way to judge conduct, which is to consider it against the objective set of moral values that guide society.

Dualism is an outcome of the human understanding of the dichotomies of love and hate, selfishness and unselfishness,  and justice and injustice.

Survival of the fittest theories suggest we would gravitate to and revere selfishness, yet we don’t. Humans revere selflessness and humility. Those of us who have revered selfishness have been humiliated to ensure compliance with God’s preference for humility. We have all stood trial and the prideful have all fallen. We are hard wired to follow the example of our source and to understand that through trials, we triumph and become better people.

The source and giver of this absolute moral standard of love, humility and selflessness is God. William Lane Craig outlines this logic as follows (2010, p. 129):

  1. If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
  2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.
  3. God exists.

“God is the ground and source of ultimate value, and He endows us with His image. Therefore, our lives have objective value, meaning, and purpose. If there is a real purpose in life – a ‘final cause’ as Aristotle put it – then there must be a right way to live it” (Turek, 2014, p. 104).

“In a world without a divine lawgiver, there can be no objective right or wrong, only our culturally and personally relative, subjective judgments. This means that it is impossible to condemn war, oppression, or crime as evil. Nor can one praise brotherhood, equality, and love as good. For in a universe without God, good and evil do not exist – there is only the bare valueless fact of existence, and there is no one to say that you are right and I am wrong” (Craig, 2008, p. 75). God “is the source from which all your reasoning power comes. You could not be right and He wrong any more than a stream can rise higher than its own source” (Lewis, 1952, p. 48).

“[God] left us conscience, the sense of right and wrong: and all through history there have been people trying (some of them very hard) to obey it. None of them ever quite succeeded. Secondly, He sent the human race what I call good dreams: I mean those queer stories scattered all through the heathen religions about a god who dies and comes to life again and, by his death, has somehow given new life to men. Thirdly, He selected one particular people and spent several centuries hammering into their heads the sort of God He was – that there was only one of Him and that He cared about the right conduct. Those people were the Jews and the Old Testament gives an account of the hammering process” (Lewis, 1952, p. 49).

Jesus Christ

The shocker occurred when a man appeared among these Jews and said He is the way and the truth, and the life. He performed miracles, healed the weak, forgave people’s sins, and spoke with authority. During His relatively short earthly life, He fulfilled numerous Old Testament prophecies about Him, such as Isaiah 9:6, Isaiah 53, Zechariah 9:9 and Psalm 22. Furthermore, He exemplified perfect love, kindness, humility, mercy, faith, and forgiveness. His perfect example set the standard against which we can judge our decisions.

Again the high priest asked Him, ‘Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?

‘I am,’ said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:61-63; cf., Daniel 7:13).

Jesus’ words, coupled with His miracles, posed such a great threat to the high priests that they were willing to trade Him for an imprisoned insurrectionist, Barabbas. His growing group of followers likely threatened to reduce the high priests’ influence.

During the time of Jesus’ arrest, His disciple Peter doubted His divinity and denied Him three times. During His ministry, Jesus’ half-brother James was openly skeptical. Then Jesus was crucified and James and Peter were among five hundred eyewitnesses to the risen Jesus (1 Corinthians 15). Both became brave, worshipping illegally and openly for years – until they were martyred.

In conclusion and when taken together, the ontological and the moral arguments support the existence of a maximally excellent, wholly good being under whose objective moral standards we live. The exemplification of our objective moral standards is the person of Jesus Christ.

“The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him” (John 1:9-10).

“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

Thank you for investing your time.

References:

Anselm, St., Anselm’s Basic Writings, translated by S.W. Deane, 2nd Ed. (La Salle, IL: Open Court Publishing Co., 1962)

Craig, W.L. (2008). Reasonable Faith. Wheaton, IL: Crossway.

Craig, W.L. (2010). On Guard. Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook

Lewis, C.S. (1952). Mere Christianity. C.S. Lewis Pte. Ltd.

Plantinga, Alvin, God, Freedom, and Evil (New York: Harper and Row, 1974)

Plantinga, Alvin, The Ontological Argument from St. Anselm to Contemporary Philosophers (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1965)

Turek, F. (2014). Stealing from God: Why atheists need God to make their case. Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress.

From Sepia to a Life in Full Color: A Christian Testimony — A Journey to Finding God

I grew up in a non-practicing Christian home. A military brat. I was sent to Bible School occasionally on Sundays where I heard the stories about Jesus and the other important people in the Bible. My family rarely attended an actual church. But it was regular enough that I had basic knowledge of Christianity, God, […]

via From Sepia to a Life in Full Color: A Christian Testimony — A Journey to Finding God

Why I Am Passionate about Christianity

In this blog,  I explain some of the reasons I believe in Jesus. The beginning of this testimony is in another blog, so if you have read it, please excuse the redundancies. I repeated it here because it helps explain how I came to so strongly believe in Christianity.

Until a couple of months ago, I resisted sharing my spiritual experiences in my blogs, due to the personal nature of the experiences and the chance of ridicule. It struck me while writing this piece that if I’m hit by a bus tomorrow, my testimonial will die with me and no one will be able to compare their own experiences with mine. For this reason, I’m going to offer readers a few of my spiritual experiences.

I was raised in a Catholic family with my sister and two brothers. We went to a Catholic grade school and frequently attended church. Church was a solemn experience, with formal dress, hymns, liturgy, and rituals. My sister loves the Catholic Church, but I felt I needed something different.

One night, while struggling to get to sleep in college, a woman wearing a blue gown appeared to me on my bed. Mother Mary. She touched my shoulder and comforted me, telling me that everything was going to be okay. I have always struggled with skin issues, and on that particular night I had reached a particularly high level of anxiety. When I awoke the next morning, I felt cleaner and more refreshed than I had ever felt. The colors of the flowers and the lawns of Florida State University seemed particularly bright and it felt as if a huge weight had been lifted from me. Within a few weeks, a book arrived in the mail (sent by someone anonymously), which offered tips for people with my particular skin condition. I changed my diet and my condition improved greatly.

Years passed and the memories of that episode slipped into the back of my mind. By my late twenties, all but my sister had left the Catholic Church for various reasons. Friends of mine were exploring eastern faiths, particularly Buddhism, so I started gravitating towards such faiths. I read books by James Redfield, Deepak Chopra, and the Dalai Lama and found their ideas to be fascinating. I wondered whether we were souls within a great soul, which whistled into the cosmos. What I learned at that point was that the faith I was exploring considered God to be a passive part of nature.

More years passed and I waffled about wandering into churches every so often, yet finding none that suited my particular needs. I got married and had two kids, completed a terminal degree, and moved to a different city with my family. As my kids grew, they noticed that the neighbors were attending church on Sunday, so my sons asked me why we weren’t attending church, which made me feel very guilty.

One night in the month of March five years ago, I sat in my bed struggling to get to sleep. Instead of being met by the warm embrace of a loving woman in a blue gown, I was met by a dark spirit, which attempted to strangle and suffocate me. I have never felt such pure, cold evil in my life and I was scared beyond words and completely frozen. In desperation, I did all I knew to do: I said the Lord’s Prayer and the Hail Mary, over and over and over. With each repetition I felt the spirit being lifted, until it was finally pulled from me. God became of a priority at this point. I realized that He is not a passive part of nature, but an active, personal, and loving God. The only God with such characteristics is the triune Lord.

My family decided to check out a quaint Baptist church, which was popular with my neighbors. When I walked through its doors, something moved me emotionally and ignited a passion within. We spent the first half hour of the service singing praise through upbeat, contemporary Christian music. I recall Matt Redman’s “Bless the Lord, O my soul” and Chris Tomlin’s “How Great is Our God” and felt tears as they streamed down my cheeks. The pastor spent the next forty minutes explaining certain verses in the Bible in such a way that my interest in learning more was greatly stimulated. My family decided to join the church and we began regularly attending services. I was baptized for a second time a few months later by full immersion in a tank of water.

I was on a path, yet I still had some unresolved questions. One big question related to the way God ordained men to lead the churches. I’m an advocate for female empowerment and leadership, so the second class treatment of women bothered me. A second question related to the way billions on the planet don’t worship Jesus. What sort of fate do they face? Will they be denied entrance into heaven?

The answer to my first question came at church when the pastor shared that Mary Magdalene and other women were the first to discover the empty tomb. Jesus gave the privilege of discovering the empty tomb, which is arguably the most important discovery in the Bible, to women, who were treated like dogs in those days! Jesus loves women. By reading the Bible, I discovered many other examples of strong women. Three standouts are Ruth, who exemplified tremendous loyalty, Esther who demonstrated courage, and Mother Mary, who showed great faith.

The answer to my second question on the fate of people of other faiths came in an unexpected way. I was standing in an airport when I noticed a tall, slender man standing in the queue next to an attractive woman. Something about the man caught my eye as he seemed to be radiating light. When I took my assigned seat, I was delighted when the man sat down next to me and his wife next to him. He struck up a conversation and I soon discovered he was a pastor in a church about an hour from my house. I told him that I wanted to write a children’s book similar to the books by C.S. Lewis. He instructed me to read C.S. Lewis’ adult books, like Mere Christianity and the Great Divorce. He also called my attention to Isaiah 53, which is a passage from the Old Testament that foretold Jesus’ crucifixion.

The books by C.S. Lewis made all of the difference, as they inspired me to learn more and to become an apologist. They taught me that no matter the religion into which we’re born or the vehicle we choose to enhance our knowledge of the world around us and God, all paths eventually lead to Jesus.

When we honestly seek Him, He makes Himself quite obvious. I have had several more spiritual experiences, which I offer here to validate that point. The first experience came in the form of a vision. One morning I was lying in bed, thinking about the day ahead and the coffee in my immediate future. As I looked at the ceiling above me, I noticed it appeared as the sky. I could see a window in the sky which was open and figures of light inside of the window. It seemed they were smiling and waving at me and I felt warmth and a sort of deep inner love fill my body.

The second experience came in the form of a dream. I was at a party in a home with which I am familiar with friends from my twenties. Everyone was drinking beer and having a good time. Suddenly, I noticed a man standing at the center of the party wearing a white robe. He appeared regal, gentle, loving, and humble all at once. As people began to notice Him, they became quiet. He was no ordinary man. We were witnesses to Jesus. He stood silently and watched us before issuing a challenge. He asked us to stop partying. He wanted us to instead become more serious about our spiritual calling and to take up our crosses and spread His message. People began to leave the party and I watched them exit through the front door of the home. An old friend came up to me and said, “I just can’t do it. I can’t stop.” He turned and headed for the front door. I stood silently in the room, well aware of the way I needed to refocus my life. I needed to focus less on me and my social life and more on others and Jesus. Then I woke up.

Another experience was my most unexpected, yet most welcome. I was at a conference in San Antonio, Texas, in a hotel room pondering my life one night. I was thinking of making a change. Suddenly, I heard a gentle, male voice – a voice of reason. He sort of scolded me for thinking of making the change and He gave me a good reason why the change would be foolish. He reminded me of happy times – and pictures of those times flashed before my eyes. I determined to be obedient to God. Thank God. The change would have been quite foolish.

I have had other visions and dreams. One of my most interesting visions was that of a white, chunky, well-defined cross-shaped cloud in the sky. I saw it while driving to my place of employment one morning. I tried to grab my cell phone to snap a picture, but the cloud dissipated too quickly.

Another of my more interesting dreams is as follows. I found myself running next to a very old, very petite Jewish woman. She was the grandmother of one of my son’s friends and she was frail and walked with a walker. Yet in my dream, she seemed strong and able. She darted ahead of me and I could not keep up with her. Then she grabbed my hand and we began to fly. We went into the sky, higher and higher until we found ourselves in a library, which was well-stocked with books. To me, such a place is heaven.

After a short while, I found myself alone running on a dark road. Demons were chasing me and throwing spear-like dark metal objects at me. I kept hearing the word “anvil” over and over. I escaped them and ran up to a hearth, which was at the center of a brick patio. A blonde curly-haired stocky, yet muscular man stood in front of me on the patio and signaled me to stop. I then saw my brother. The man put his arm around my brother and led him away from me as he told me that my brother had chosen to go with “them.”  He said something like, “He’s with us now.” Then I awoke, more determined than ever to fulfill my calling.

I thought about the word “anvil” and recalled the large box-like anvils on the Bugs Bunny show, which cartoon characters always dropped from buildings. I saw nothing like those in my dream, so I did an internet search. I came upon photos of ancient metal tools, which appeared as pointy spears. The photos matched the tools I saw in my dream.

Such visions, dreams, and experiences have fueled my passion for Christ, my drive to make a difference in the world for Him, and my empathy for those who have not yet found Him.

I love writing, so a few years ago, I started writing Christian fiction books (one I dropped), which I give away for free on Smashwords. While promoting these books on Twitter, I have met quite a few atheists who tell me that my testimony is unconvincing.

Accordingly, I did a full dive into apologetics and started writing blogs on my findings. Some of the books I recommend are by authors such as Turek, MacDowell, Strobel, Platinga, Ross, Tozer, Guinness, Bannister, Lanza, Warren, Craig, Habermas, Licona, and Peter Hitchens.

Apologetic books have taught me how best to defend Christianity, which is something all Christians should do. Atheism is rising in the United States and other developed secular societies and the so-called “new atheists” can be convincing. We as Christians need to be more convincing.

Thank you for investing your time.

 

An Atheist’s and A Christian’s Perspectives on Cyber Bullying

We should lift people up, not knock them down. We’re better than that. Accordingly, the following blog offers two perspectives on cyber bullying: the first is from an atheist and the second is from a Christian. The intention is to draw attention to on-line bullying via social media platforms and to offer ways to mitigate this serious and growing epidemic.

Atheist Codex:

I’m an atheist, and so, naturally, one might ask why I would seek an opportunity to be heard here.

The answer is simple: there’s a problem with atheists bullying theists. And just as it must be said that Muslims themselves must lead the charge against Islamists, so too must atheists lead the charge against bullies within their ranks.

Bullying cuts both ways, to be sure. Theists have their fair share of bullies (16% of teens dying by suicide are homosexual, and I think there’s a reason for that). But on social media, at least, I am profoundly saddened to note that atheists’ bullying tends to be worse both in both quantity, and ferocity.  It ranges from mocking theists’ personal pleas for prayers, to suggesting that theists prove to him- or herself the existence of God by committing suicide.

These actions are immoral and disgusting, and they must be opposed.  Further, in the case of atheists, they strike me as deeply hypocritical.

Whenever possible, I politely (and with genuine interest) ask atheist bullies about their motivation.  And while most conceal their motives behind a façade of rational thought, I’ve yet to see a case where reason plays any significant part.

The most common defense I get is, “I only treat people with respect if they treat me with respect.”  This sounds fair, until you realize that it’s essentially the “but they started it!” argument most of us overcome by the age of seven. If you’re treated disrespectfully, you can walk away. If you continue to engage, it’s not about respect: it’s about avenging your sense of self, showing them who’s boss, or making them look the fool. No, this is not a reasonable defense.

Other atheist bullies argue that insults, sarcasm, and condescension are all elements of satire – an ‘elevated’ level of discourse – wielded to educate theists.  Hitchens, among others, taught us that satire and sarcasm are indeed excellent tools for battling authoritarians and tyrants, but I’ve yet to see any theists on Twitter who fall into those categories. I’ve spent 30 years teaching, and if there’s a theory of education that promotes name-calling and humiliation as effective means of encouraging learning, I’ve yet to hear of it. “I bully them for their own good” is another argument best abandoned at adolescence.

If one truly wants to be rational about the subject of bullying online, let us be rational. When bullying is both severe enough and long enough, it inevitably leads to suicide; one of these days, an atheist will taunt, “go kill yourself,” and a theist is going to do it.  This is not a guess; on a long enough timescale, it’s a mortal lock.

Who would want to be the one who triggered this? Isn’t this a risk you take every time you bully someone? Certainly, you’d be more cautious after such an incident; isn’t the rational choice therefore to stop the bullying now, before there’s a tragedy?

The truth is, and I can’t stress this enough, most atheists are appalled by this sort of behavior. But the ones who do it are vicious, feel completely justified, and they’re out front for everyone to see. And their vaunted sense of self superiority aside, they, theist bullies, chauvinists, and racists, all do it for the same reasons:

They do it because hatred is fun.

Hatred is cathartic; it thrives on a sense of superiority over that which is hated.  No doubt, it’s deeply satisfying to imagine one’s race to be superior to the rest, or one’s point-of-view to be correct to the exclusion of all others. We all do it, every day, in seemingly trivial ways:  we imagine that the guy who cuts us off in traffic is a rude, arrogant jerk, instead of considering the more probable explanation that he or she may simply be in a legitimate rush, or momentarily distracted (as indeed we’ve all been).  There’s a primal rush in assuming the worst of people, in spoiling for a fight.

I know this because I feel it, I enjoy it, as much as anyone.

The problem, of course, is that this is hardly a good foundation for a stable or pleasant society, or for moral behavior.  Indeed, we’ve hit on some of the core objections that most atheists have to theism:  the undermining of reason by (a) a failure to account for one’s own biases, and (b) the inherent authoritarian and bullying nature of it, where those who believe try to impose their beliefs (often through the use of intimidation) on others. This lands atheists who bully in the position of exemplifying that which they claim most to oppose.

I’m deeply saddened when I see it… and feel, too, no small sense of awe over the breathtaking hypocrisy of it.

Having once been a theist myself, I understand that many people cannot imagine morality without God. It was unfathomable to me for half my life, where I assumed atheists were either angry at God, looking for attention, spoiling for a fight, or in the best of all possible cases, simply deluded. On the other side now, I can assure you that none of these are true for the vast majority of atheists, but atheist bullies hurt us all by reinforcing these prejudices, by entrenching people in the notion that it is impossible for one to be moral and an atheist. This is demonstrably false; there are now, and always have been, many admirably moral atheists, from individuals like Warren Buffett, Charles Branson, and Bill Gates, to secular organizations like Amnesty International, UNICEF, and Doctors Without Borders (whose members regularly put their lives on the line without the consolation of a reward in heaven).   Sam Harris, an American author and prominent ‘New Atheist,’ wrote that objective morality can be expressed on a simple scale. On the left is the worst possible suffering for the greatest number of people; on the right, the greatest possible happiness for the greatest number. A moral action is any one that that moves us along the scale from left to right. It is an elegant solution to the problem of moral relativism.

And so I ask these questions of my atheist brothers and sisters who would treat others with disrespect:

When you condescend and insult (even if provoked), in which direction are you sliding that scale?

You ask theists to evaluate themselves and their motivations honestly. Can you ask yourself, with the same brutal honesty, what benefit there is to inflicting this pain on others? Can you answer without delusion?

Would your language and behavior be the same if you were speaking face-to-face with this person, with your friends and family watching? If not, do you have any defense for the difference other than an ad populum argument that “well, everyone does it?”

None of this changes my commitment to atheism, nor my belief that theism is a danger that must be challenged. I truly believe that the atheist position is both correct, and ultimately necessary for our species to survive.

But it is precisely because I believe I am right that I can argue without taking opposition personally, and without trying to draw blood or hurt the ‘other side.’  Indeed, because I am right, such actions serve only to undermine my credibility, and my ability to make the points which I think are so important.

In the end, engaging every theist one can, simply because one can, is more the action of a man in a blind rage than of a person with a legitimate complaint.  It causes more damage than it could possibly correct, entrenches the opposition, and legitimizes retaliation.  In short, it is a lose/lose proposition.

But none of these, not a one, comes close to the best reason to oppose bullying.

The most important reason to oppose bullying? The reason I oppose it? I oppose bullying most because, like most people, I’ve been bullied. I oppose it because I want to be the man that my wife thinks I am, the father my kids think I am, and the person I want to see when I look in the mirror. None of those goals are guaranteed or easy; if they were, we’d all do them. But that’s what makes doing the right thing so important.

When I die, I will be judged. Not by a higher power, I suspect, but most certainly by the people who knew me, and by the legacy I leave. If people can say, “he moved that scale to the right,” if they can say “the world was a better place for having him in it”, then my life will have had meaning.

That is why I oppose atheist bullying. That is why I am thankful that Christian Apologist, despite our differences, didn’t hesitate to let me speak on this matter. It is why I’m glad she has a forum for the victims of bullying, and why I felt so compelled to contribute to it.

Christian Apologist

What I have noticed about atheist bullies on social media is that bullying is usually perpetuated by a person hiding behind a profile photo of an ape, an atheist sign, an Einstein photo, or the something similar. Since joining Twitter in 2014, I have been bullied and doxed by a number of atheists, which is likely because I’m a very vocal Christian and that fact alone annoys some atheists. Fortunately, some other atheists are not internet bullies and they often call out their peers. Atheist Codex is not alone.

Most of the bullying I have witnessed is from atheists who target theists (mostly Christians), yet I have also seen some Christians acting out of character (i.e., Jesus’ character) by bullying atheists. For the present blog, I will concentrate on mitigating bullying by both atheists and Christians.

When faced with bullies on Twitter, we have several options: (1) block; (2) mute; (3) ignore; (4) bully back; or (5) respond with kindness. The latter approach is the most difficult, yet potentially the most rewarding when one discovers that the person who initiated the tweet is just another human struggling to make sense of his/her challenges on the third rock from the sun. Oftentimes, these people are going through major crises, whether it be with life-threatening health issues, personal losses, and other tragic circumstances. They need our help, not our wit or our taunting.

When Christians receive bullying messages from atheists, we can think of it as an opportunity to minister. As Habermas and Licona (2004, p. 218) note, “Be patient and develop your skills. There are no substitutes for study and experience. Be careful not to go off onto other subjects. Stay on Jesus’ resurrection. Don’t get discouraged when someone seems unmoved by your presentation. When someone maintains their radical views after you have shared the evidence with them, this is not necessarily the result of any shortcomings of your efforts or weakness in the evidence… In time, sharing your faith will become a lot of fun and you will be amazed at how God will use you to spread His word.”

As 1 Peter 3:15 states: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”

(Please note that I have not always responded with gentleness and respect, yet fortunately I have Christian and atheist friends who have called me out on those less than ideal responses, which I’ve worked to correct).

Next I will offer a few tips for Christians interested in interacting with atheists.

  1. Don’t threaten atheists with hell.

When I first started attracting the attention of atheists on Twitter, I was unsure of how to respond. I don’t know any atheists in “real life” very well, so I resorted to the usual warnings about hell and fire and the impending doom they would face if they didn’t convert to Christianity. The approach failed miserably and at first, I could not understand why. Then I witnessed interactions between atheists and Muslims, which enlightened me and helped me to see how atheists view God and religion. I changed my approach and now rarely mention impending doom. That does not mean that I am not concerned for the fate of atheists. I’m extremely concerned, but I have discovered that threats of hell are ineffective.

  1. Kill them with kindness.

When Christians open their Twitter notifications and discover unpleasant jabs and insults, the best response (if one chooses to respond) includes a bit of humor, some kindness, or a cheerful “Good day” or “Good morning to you too” or “Great to hear from you.” Some atheists are in fighting mode when they send you a tweet, so diffusing the fight with a nicety can be helpful.

  1. Once you have solidified your position and have a good grasp on Christian apologetics, get to know them.

I have cultivated relationships with a handful of atheists and have discovered that many of them are humanists, focused intensely on their personal relationships, families, and friends. Though I have had many conversations with these atheists, I cannot say that I fully understand their positions. As someone who has always been a believer in the divine, it is difficult to understand the position of someone who believes the opposite. Yet there is value in developing an understanding and cultivating the relationship if one ever hopes to effect a positive change by planting seeds of faith, hope, and love. Our purpose is to plant the seeds, which God will water and grow.

“And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love” – 1 Corinthians 13:13

William Lane Craig (2008, p. 406-407) offers, “Why is love the great commandment? Simply because all of the other commandments are the outworking of love…According to Jesus, our love is a sign to all people that we are His disciples (John 13:35); but even more than that, our love and unity are living proof to the world that God the Father has sent His Son Jesus Christ and that the Father loves people even as He loves Jesus. When people see this – our love for one another and our unity through love – then they will in turn be drawn to Christ and will respond to the Gospel’s offer of salvation. More often than not, it is who you are rather than what you say that will bring an unbeliever to Christ. This, then, is the ultimate apologetic. For the ultimate apologetic is – your life.”

Thank you for your time.

An excellent resource for anti-bullying is here: https://www.stopbullying.gov/image-gallery/you-should-lift-people-up.html

If you wish to reach the Atheist Codex or the Christian Apologist, our Twitter handles are @TheAtheistCodex and @Lead1225, respectively. You can also reach the Atheist Codex at TheAtheistCodex.com.

References

Craig, W.L. (2008) Reasonable Faith. Wheaton, IL: Crossway.

Habermas, G.R. & Licona, M.R. (2004) The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.

 

Resolving Controversies Surrounding Joseph of Arimathea and the Women who Discovered Jesus’ Empty Tomb

Many atheists whom I have encountered on social media dispute the accounts of Jesus’ empty tomb, the discovery of the empty tomb by women, and the owner of the empty tomb, Joseph of Arimathea. One such atheist refers to himself as Kaimatai on social media. Kaimatai is a word that means “biologist” or “specialist,” which is likely Kaimatai’s occupation. The following blog is a response to Kaimatai’s blog with respect to the aforementioned topics, followed by his original blog.

CHRISTIAN APOLOGIST:

Kaimatai presents four general arguments against the authenticity of various events in the New Testament. He questions (1) the timing of the writing of the New Testament, calling into question its authenticity; (2) inconsistencies in the accounts of the empty tomb and the number of women discovering same; (3) conflicts with Roman practices; and (4) whether Joseph of Arimathea was a real person. I will address each of these.

1. Timing (and authenticity of the New Testament and Empty Tomb)

Timing and Authenticity of the New Testament

The overarching premise that Kaimatai has adopted is that the New Testament was written as a propaganda tool, used to “convince people that Jesus was the Messiah and of divine origin.” To fully understand this premise, we must unpack some of the context of early Christian history.

To do so, we first note that until 313 A.D., Christians practiced illegally. Those who were exposed by zealots such as Saul (when he was a Christian persecutor) risked being tortured, burned, crucified, or jailed (cf. Tacitus, Paul, and Luke), so the motivation to practice in the open and intentionally create a propaganda tool was not there.

Similarly, the difficulty associated with transcriptions presented challenges because (1) transcriptions were costly, as they were written either on parchment, which is stretched and smoothed leather, or papyrus from a reed plant; (2) the risk of being identified for practicing Christianity illegally was significant; (3) most of the population (~ 97% according to some estimates) was illiterate, so the oral tradition was revered and perhaps preferred; and (4) scribes were often needed and used to record oral traditions (Bar-Ilan, 2017).

Such challenges help to explain why we do not have hundreds of extra-Biblical sources within 150 years of 33 A.D. when Jesus was crucified. However, despite significant challenges, we do have 42 extra-Biblical sources confirming biblical events within this time period (including nine non-Christian sources, along with the independent sources from within the New Testament (Habermas & Licona, 2004). As an example, we have five non-Christian sources who confirm Jesus’ death via the crucifixion. These are Josephus, Tacitus, Lucian, Mara Bar-Serapion, and Talmud (Habermas & Licona, 2004). We have seven sources pointing to multiple, very early and eyewitness testimonies to the disciples’ claims of witnessing the risen Jesus who all note that early disciples were willing to suffer for their beliefs in Jesus: Luke – in Acts, Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Ignatius, Dionysius of Corinth, Tertullian, and Origen (Habermas & Licona, 2004). Finally, we have eyewitness testimonies from disciples Peter, Mark, Matthew, Paul, James and Jude, along with the testimony of Luke, who authored the book of Luke and Acts. In Acts, Luke refers to himself in the first person when traveling with Paul (who knew Peter and James), which suggests he was well-aware and had first-hand knowledge of the testimonies of (at least) Peter, James, and Paul.

Kaimatai makes the assertion that the Gospels were written in sequence from Mark to Luke and Matthew to John over a period of thirty to forty years. This assertion is in conformity with Christian estimates. He adds that the Gospels were written after the fall of Rome in 70 A.D., which is not consistent with Christian estimates.

J. Warner Wallace offers the following evidence for earlier dating of the New Testament: (1) The New Testament fails to describe the destruction of the temple during the fall of Rome in 70 A.D.; (2) The New Testament fails to describe the siege of Jerusalem; (3) Luke said nothing about the deaths of Paul and Peter in 64 A.D. and 65 A.D., respectively; (4) Luke said nothing about the death of James in 62 A.D.; (5) Luke’s Gospel predates the Book of Acts, as noted in its words to Theophilus; (6) Paul quoted Luke’s Gospel in his letter to Timothy (1 Timothy 5:17-18) and his letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 11:23-25); (7) Paul echoed the claims of the Gospel writers (1 Corinthians 15:3-8; Galatians 1:15-19; Galatians 2:1); Luke quoted Mark and Matthew repeatedly (Luke 1:1-4). Furthermore, Luke refers to Mark’s Gospel when he notes that “it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order” (Luke 1:3). J. Warner Wallace suggests the following timeline for the authorship of the New Testament:

  • Mark                           45 – 55 A.D.
  • Luke                            50 – 53 A.D.
  • Paul quotes Luke      53 – 57 A.D.
  • Luke writes Acts       57 – 60 A.D.

Some claim the Gospels were anonymous, yet “no one in antiquity ever attributed the Gospels to anyone other than the four traditionally accepted authors” (Wallace, p. 172). Papias, who lived in the 1st century and early 2nd century is an example of a person who attributed authorship to the four traditionally accepted authors. Furthermore, the Gospels are not the only ancient documents that do not identify the author, as evidenced in Tacitus’ Annals.

Authenticity of the Empty Tomb Account

According to Kaimatai, accounts of the empty tomb are only present in the Gospels, yet we have evidence suggesting Paul was well aware of the empty tomb and the Jewish polemic presupposes the empty tomb. In 1 Corinthians 15 3b-5, Paul cites an old Christian formula, which originated in the Jerusalem church within the first five years of Jesus’ crucifixion (Craig, 1985):

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas and then to the twelve.”

Kaimatai is correct in his assertion that Paul does not specifically mention the empty tomb, yet does this omission mean that the tomb was not empty? If I knew that Suzie left her house to join me for lunch, yet I only said that Suzie joined me for lunch, does it mean that she did not leave her house? If I said Justin came home from college to stay with us for the weekend and I knew that he left his single-occupancy dorm along the way, yet did not mention that he left his dorm in my account of the weekend, can I assume that Justin’s dorm would be without Justin over the weekend? Such simple logic suggests that while Paul did not mention the empty tomb specifically, he was well aware of the empty tomb.

As for the Jewish polemic, Matthew’s account about the guard at the tomb (Matthew 27: 62-66; 28: 11-15) was written to refute the widespread assertion that the disciples had stolen Jesus’ body.

Matthew 28:11-15 “While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole Him away while we were asleep.’ If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among Jews to this very day.”

Further information on these arguments can be found here: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-historicity-of-the-empty-tomb-of-jesus

2. Inconsistencies (in accounts of the empty tomb)

All four Gospels identify Mary Magdalene as one of the persons to first discover Jesus’ empty tomb. Yet the Gospels appear to vary in accounts of those who accompanied her in this discovery. Mark (16:1) says that Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome went to the tomb. Matthew (28:1) says that Mary and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. Luke (24:10) says “It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the Mother of James, and the others with them who told the apostles.” John (20:1) only mentions Mary Magdalene, yet includes her statement referring to “we:” (20:2) “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put Him.”

Does failure to mention all of the women who discovered the empty tomb suggest that all of the women weren’t present? If I said, “Peyton Manning threw a touchdown pass and the Colts won the football game,” does it imply that Peyton Manning was alone on the field? No, it instead suggests my emphasis on Peyton Manning and his role in the game. The same can be said of John’s reference to only Mary Magdalene and the other disciples’ references to various women.

Reconciling the Accounts

The following takes the four accounts of the women’s discovery of the empty tomb and marries them into a single account. Very minor discrepancies have been eliminated.

There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning and his clothes were as white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise,* Mary Magdalene, Mary the Mother of James, Joanna, and Salome took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. While they were on their way to the tomb, they asked each other ‘Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away.

They entered the tomb while they were wondering about this, when suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. One of the men, who was dressed in a white robe and on the right side of the tomb, said, “Don’t be alarmed, for I know you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He is not here. He has risen, just as He said. Come and see the place where they laid Him. Then go quickly and tell His disciples and Peter, ‘He has risen from the dead and He is going ahead of you in Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He told you.”

In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here. He has risen! Remember how He told you, while He was still with you in Galilee; ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified, and on the third day be raised again.’ Then they remembered His words.

Now Mary Magdalene stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw the two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her “Woman, why are you crying?”

“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put Him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Thinking He was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have put Him and I will get Him.”

Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned toward Him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).

Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’

So the women hurried away from the tomb afraid, yet filled with joy, and ran to the disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” He said. They came to Him, clasped His feet and worshipped Him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

When they came back from the tomb, the women told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. Mary Magdalene said, “I have seen the Lord!” But the disciples did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Peter and the other disciple ran to the tomb and the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally, the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead). Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.

*A note must be made about the Gospel of John. John reports that when Mary Magdalene went to the tomb, it was still dark. Given the timing in the early hours of the morning, it seems reasonable to assume that the darkness turned to light while on her journey at some point undisclosed. The Gospel of John further offers an overall summary of the empty tomb account, which included Mary Magdalene’s visit to the empty tomb and subsequent visit to the disciples (John 20: 1-10), followed by a detailed account of what occurred at the empty tomb during Mary Magdalene’s visit (John 20: 11-18).

In summary, when taken together, the accounts offer a more vivid picture of the events surrounding the empty tomb. As pointed out by J. Warner Wallace, the gospels fit together like a puzzle.

3. Jesus’ burial conflicts with Roman practice

According to Bart Ehrman, criminals considered “enemies of the state” were not allowed decent burials. However, at least one source (a Jewish philosopher called Philo of Alexandria, Egypt) stated that Romans had a practice of allowing burials under “various circumstances.” Furthermore, such an allowance is consistent with Jewish beliefs, as per Deuteronomy 21:22-23, and Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem, which was predominantly Jewish.

Deuteronomy 21:22-23 “If someone guilty of a capital offense is put to death and their body is exposed on a pole, you must not leave the body hanging on the pole overnight. Be sure to bury it that same day, because anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse.”

Josephus explains Jewish ethical obligations as follows: “We must furnish fire, water, food, to all who ask for them, point out the road, not to leave a corpse unburied…show consideration even to declared enemies (Against Apion, 2:29; 211; cf., 2:26; 205) (Evans, 2017). Given the fact that Jesus was crucified (1) in Jerusalem, a hub for the Jews; and (2) during peacetime on the eve of the Passover in which thousands of Jews would be visiting the next day, it seems unlikely that Jesus’ body would be left on the cross for all men, women, and children traveling to Jerusalem for the Passover holiday to see.

Kaimatai states “As far as we can tell Romans did not normally allow crucified victims to get buried in tombs.”

Jesus was not a “normal” sort of victim, so how can one assert that He should be buried as one? Kaimatai’s assertion suggests that Jesus was not unlike the thieves who were at either side of Him on crosses. Unlike such thieves, Jesus presented such a significant threat to the Jewish high priests that they traded Him for Barabbas, who was mentioned in all four gospels and who had been imprisoned on death row for “an insurrection in the city, and for murder” (Luke 23:19). Jesus’ significant following, likely a product of His bold and knowledgeable teachings, His miracles, and the fact that He forgave people, were likely what threatened the Jewish high priests who did not want their own power to be infringed upon. They labeled Him the “King of the Jews,” which posed a threat to Roman power, helping to justify their decision to crucify Him.

Furthermore, we have at least four independent sources attesting to Jesus’ burial: Luke in Acts (2:29; 13:36); Paul (1 Corinthians 15:4), Matthew, Mark, and John. Historians have documented much of early history with one or two sources, so having four sources enhances the validity and historicity of the burial account.

4. Joseph of Arimathea

Joseph of Arimathea is described as a wealthy man who was a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin, which was located in Jerusalem. The Sanhedrin was the Jewish high court, which consisted of seventy of the leading authorities on Judaism. Given that the Sanhedrin was responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus, early Christian views on the Sanhedrin were likely quite hostile. Given that Joseph was a member of the Sanhedrin, all of whom (according to Mark) voted to condemn Jesus, Joseph was the last person Christians would “invent” if the account were merely fiction. According to the late New Testament scholar, Raymond Brown, Jesus’ burial by Joseph is “very probable” since it is “almost inexplicable” for Christians to make up a story about a Jewish Sanhedrist who does what is right by Jesus. Even Bart Ehrman affirms that Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the evidence presented above serves to diffuse readers’ “problems” with (1) the timing and accuracy of the accounts of the empty tomb, (2) the “inconsistencies” between the Gospel accounts of same, (3) the conflicts with Roman practices, and (4) the doubts about Joseph of Arimathea.

Thank you for investing the time to read this article.

REFERENCES:

Bar-Ilan, Meir (2017). Illiteracy in the land of Israel in the first centuries c.e. Accessed May 20, 2017 at https://faculty.biu.ac.il/~barilm/illitera.html. References include: J. Goody (ed.), Literacy in Traditional Societies, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1968; J. Baines, ‘Literacy and Ancient Egyptian Society’, Man (ns), 18 (1983), pp. 572-599 (includes bibliography); Rosamond McKitterick, The Carolingians and the Written Word, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1989.

Craig, W.L. (1985). The historicity of the empty tomb of Jesus. New Testament Studies, 31: 39-67.

Evans, C. (2017). Jewish burial traditions and the resurrection of Jesus. Accessed May 20, 2017 at http://craigaevans.com/Burial_Traditions.pdf

Habermas, G.R. & Licona, M.R. (2004). The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.

Wallace, J.W. (2013). Cold Case Christianity. Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook

KAIMATAI:

Introduction

Well, Easter has come and gone again.  That seems to be a good time to talk about the resurrection. Because many Christians have been talking about it.  How else can we explain the empty tomb if Jesus wasn’t magically resurrected via the power of an ancient bloodgod? It’s the only explanation that makes sense! (rolls eyes). The problem with the question is its loaded nature.  The empty tomb is presented as a fact.  This has some major credibility problems.

Problem 1: Timing

The empty tomb isn’t used as proof of Jesus’ divinity and resurrection until we get to the gospels.  The (genuine) letters we have from Paul do not mention it. Nor is it present in other early NT letters.  For something that’s supposed to convince us all that Jesus was divine and resurrected, its absence for decades in early Christianity literature is astonishing.  The gospels are generally reckoned to be written after Jerusalem was besieged by the Romans (70 CE) because they’re not referenced in earlier Christian documents. Paul seems completely unaware of them.  And prophecies of Jerusalem being sacked are always easier to make after the event… The sequence for the gospels is usually reckoned as Mark, followed by Luke and Matthew, and finally John.  This spans around 30-40 years.  And all are long after the alleged event. The gap between when the empty tomb alleged occurred and when it’s first mentioned is extraordinarily large.

Problem 2: Inconsistencies

Despite the synoptic gospels (Mark, Matthew, Luke) patently using the same sources, they can’t keep the empty tomb story straight. Throw in John and it gets worse.  The number of women who went to the tomb, when they went, what they saw at the tomb, what they did afterward, whether they were believed or not are all inconsistent across the gospels.  The Apologist gambit is to assert that this is what we expect with eye-witness accounts.  No. It’s consistent with a bunch of people who didn’t balk at making things up to sell their religion.

Problem 3: It conflicts with Roman practice

As far as we can tell Romans did not normally allow crucified victims to get buried in tombs. Crassus left thousands of ex-slaves rotting on crosses after the suppression of the Slave revolt.  Normally crucified victims were left aloft to be picked clean by birds and the like.   To be buried, and buried ceremoniously instead of in a common pit, is a deviation that begs for explanation.

Problem 4: Joseph of Arimathea

It has always struck me how much of a Deus ex Machina Joseph plays.  In order to get Jesus from the cross, into a tomb and in the time available, requires a very powerful and capable character.  There’s nobody in the disciples capable of pulling this off. Enter Joseph.  He fixes all the problems with the plot.  First, he’s politically powerful.  He’s part of the council that condemned Jesus.  But like all superhero fiction, he has a secret identity.  He’s also a disciple of Jesus.  He’s influential enough to persuade Pilate to take the body off the cross.  He’s also rich.  This is also necessary for the plot.  They have to buy linen cloth and 100 pounds of myrrh and aloe that evening.  He’s also already got a tomb ready.   Every plot-hole (bar one) is immediately fixed.  Evening might be approaching when he asked Pilate for the body, but Jesus is lying in a shroud, in a tomb, with a stone covering the entrance in time for his resurrection. Phew! The remaining plot hole of course, is there isn’t enough time to get this all done in the time available.  Joseph’s appearance in the story is dramatic.  He’s not mentioned in the gospels before this.  And he disappears just as dramatically. He’s never mentioned again.  He’s not mentioned in Acts, he’s not mentioned in any of the letters preceding the gospels.  Paul, Peter and James have no recollection of him at all. He’s a powerful and connected guy with massive influence, and nobody mentions him?! Amazing.   Joseph only has one job.  He appears at exactly the right time to fill in a bunch of critical plot-holes, and then disappears.  He has the traits of a literary invention that appears decades later when the empty tomb story gets added to the Jesus legend- not the traits of an historic person.  (If you want a much deeper analysis of Joseph of Arimathea, I recommend John Loftus’ blog).

Conclusion

I don’t feel that I need to explain the empty tomb, because I don’t think there was one.  Early Christendom was plagued with doctrinal problems.  Hints of this are preserved in the letters of Paul, James and others.  This also created a range of heretical sects, such as the Arians.   The gospels weren’t written to be histories.  They were written to convince people that Jesus was the Messiah and of divine origin.  And by drawing on the authority of Jesus and the early disciples, they could be used to resolve doctrinal disputes.  Was the resurrection a mostly spiritual or personal visionary event?  Or was it a physical event?  For anyone who believed in a physical resurrection, the canonical Gospels make a perfect argument. And they get more elaborate the later the gospel is composed. It’s the last gospel, Johns, that introduces Thomas as the clincher for the physical resurrection.  So either major scientific laws were broken to miraculously bring the offspring of an ancient god and virgin back to life.  Or the belief that the resurrection was a physical event evolved slowly in a community that was willing to add embellishments that showed this, in retelling, over decades.  It’s not really difficult deciding what’s the least plausible.

What Would You Do If You Were Me? A Christian Response to Atheist Engineer

The following blog is a response to a blog from an atheist on social media who calls himself Atheist Engineer. I have been communicating with him for over six months and came upon his blog yesterday, which highlights a few words I’ve said to him. The purpose of this blog is to offer my response to his opinions on Christianity.

CHRISTIAN APOLOGIST:

Atheist Engineer is one of the atheists I consider “humanists,” who are half way up the ladder to God. I know this because he has a good set of morals on many issues and aside from our disagreement on Christianity, I share many of his humanist views towards equality, feminism, and the like. That’s why I care about him and others like him and have decided to keep communicating with them on social media.

Yes, I’ll be the first to admit that I care about his eternal fate and the fate of those like him. I’ve identified several others very similar to him on social media. But what I want to be clear in this comment is (1) that our Lord is loving, fair, and the source of our objective moral code so the punishment will fit the crime; (2) that eternal burning in hell, in my humble and hopeful opinion, may only be reserved for the “weeds” of the Bible — people of Satan with no moral compass — people like Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, and Pol Pot; (3) God has made it very clear that He desires all of His “lost sheep” to return to Him. The Parable of the Lost Sheep and the Parable of the Prodigal Son make quite clear the lengths to which God will go to be sure His children are rescued and the level of forgiveness He offers. Furthermore, the story of Saul/Paul assures us that God is willing to forgive even the biggest sinners, as just prior to Paul’s encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, he was busy identifying, jailing, and witnessing the deaths of early Christians who were worshiping Jesus illegally in the years just following Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.

In other words, we know that God forgives, loves, and embraces His lost sheep as His children. He also knows of the characteristics within His children and the experiences that they’ve had in their lives that have led to their decisions — as He made them the way they are. I’ve identified recent studies indicating that atheism is partially genetic, which tells me that God will be kind to people predisposed to atheism. I’ve further identified studies indicating that people often turn to God later in their lives. With age comes wisdom.

The Biblical Conceptions of Hell

Gotquestions.org, which is a resource used by many pastors, offers an explanation of the afterlife.

“In the Hebrew Scriptures, the word used to describe the realm of the dead is sheol. It simply means ‘the place of the dead’ or ‘the place of departed souls/spirits.’ The New Testament Greek equivalent to sheol is hades, which is also a general reference to ‘the place of the dead.’ The Greek word gehenna is used in the New Testament for ‘hell’ and is derived from the Hebrew word hinnom. Other Scriptures in the New Testament indicated that sheol/hades is a temporary place where souls are kept as they await the final resurrection. The souls of the righteous, at death, go directly into the presence of God—the part of sheol called ‘heaven,’ ‘paradise,’ or ‘Abraham’s bosom’ (Luke 23:43; 2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:23).”

“The lake of fire, mentioned only in Revelation 19:20 and 20:10, 14-15, is the final hell, the place of eternal punishment for all unrepentant rebels, both angelic and human (Matthew 25:41). It is described as a place of burning sulfur, and those in it experience eternal, unspeakable agony of an unrelenting nature (Luke 16:24; Mark 9:45-46).”

So the questions presents themselves: (1) Do both “weeds” and “lost sheep” end up in the so-called “final hell” based on their earthly decisions or (2) do only “weeds” and “lost sheep” who retained their decisions to deny God even after death end up there? Conservative Biblical scholars are of the opinion that anyone who denies Jesus Christ while on earth will end up in the lake of fire. C.S. Lewis, some Catholics and more liberal Christian scholars consider the temporary place (sheol, hades, or purgatory) to be one in which people are given the (after death) choice of accepting the Lord. In his book “The Great Divorce,” C.S. Lewis spells out his version of such an existence.

Either tradition cannot be proven, so one looks to the Bible for an answer. According to Green, McKnight, and Marshall (1992), the general belief is that once one passes through Hades’ portals (Isaiah 38:10), there will be no return (e.g., Job 7:9-10; Psalm 49: 14-20; 1 Samuel 2:9; Isaiah 38:10, 18) and they are bound to silence (1 Samuel 2:9; Psalm 6:5; 31:17; Isaiah 38:18) and darkness (Job 17:13). Some evidence of future hope for the righteous does exist, however (Hosea 13:14; Psalm 16:10; 49:15; Job 14:13; 1 Samuel 2:6).

Based on God’s objective moral standard, we know that whatever the fate, the punishment will fit the crime. Therefore, I tend to lean to the opinion of C.S. Lewis, yet again, that is only my opinion. I can not say for certain the fate that will meet those who leave this world denying the Lord’s presence. I can only pray for them, hoping for the best, and counting on the Lord’s objective moral standard of love. A river can not exceed its source, so our morals and standards of love and goodness cannot exceed those from which we’re born: God. In other words, our ethical standards can never be better than those of the standard Himself.

What Would I Do?

Personally, I have never spent so much time considering the consequence of hell as I have over this past year while on social media. The atheists I now know often discuss the matter, so I have begun focusing on it more closely. The reason I haven’t considered it much is because I have always figured that I and my loved ones would end up in paradise, or heaven. I cannot even imagine gambling on the possibility of going to hell.

So, what would I do if in Atheist Engineer’s shoes? It’s hard to imagine, since I have never been an atheist, exactly what he is thinking. If I were in his shoes, however, I would meditate on the life of Jesus Christ. Since the Bible seems to present negative issues for Atheist Engineer, I would suggest that he initially avoid reading the books outside of the four gospels and Acts. Then, if I were him, I would ask God for an answer. I am confident that Atheist Engineer will receive God’s answer, which will guide him up the rest of the ladder.

To Conclude…

I have not fully addressed all of the issues noted by Atheist Engineer in this particular blog, because I’ve already answered them in other blogs. As examples, in my blog entitled, “A Christian Defense against Atheism,” which was originally a rebuttal to Atheist Engineer, I discuss issues of the problem of pain, free will, omniscience and omnipotence, and arguments such as the teleological argument and the cosmological argument for God. In “10 Good Response to Believe God Exists,” I summarize many of my points made in other blogs. This blog is a quick and easy read. In “Why Were Early Christians So Brave?” and “An Extra-Biblical Case for Christianity,” I make a case for the divinity of Jesus Christ. In “Why Did Jesus Have to Die? An Extension of Penal Substitution Atonement” I explain the atonement. In “Thoughts on the Atheist Experience Show along with a Testimonial in Support of Jesus,” I discuss the fate of those who follow different faiths. Finally, in “The Moral Argument for God,” I make an argument for God’s absolute moral standard.  I hope you’ll take the time to review any and all blogs if you’re interested in the way, the truth, and the life.

Thank you for investing your time.

“Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you will get neither” – C.S. Lewis

References:

Green, J.B., McKnight, S., & Marshall, I.H. (1992). Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. Intervarsity Press: Downers Grove, IL, USA.

ATHEIST ENGINEER:

I try to treat believers with the same or better respect than they treat me. As a result, a few of them get to know me well enough to realize I’m not the hateful, angry, baby eating, Satan worshiper that some fundamentalists say we are.

Not me. Or any of the atheists I’ve personally met and made friends with.

One of these Christians who has taken the time to get to know me recently asked:

… I’ll be the first to admit I’ve tried to be as convincing as possible. What would you do if you were in my shoes and you had my beliefs and you really cared about someone?

I suspect she was referring to my accusations that she exaggerates the “evidence for Jesus” and presents it without mentioning the known problems or issues with the evidence. I consider it dishonest and I’ve said as much. But her point is that she does it because she feels compelled to try to save us “lost sheep.”

So What Would I Do?

As a former Christian, I can still easily put myself back in my old Christian mindset. I would feel moral anguish if I thought that good people would be punished while I am rewarded, simply because they didn’t believe my Jesus. Such a plan would be horribly unfair to so much of humanity! Social scientists say that the greatest factors in deterring a person’s religious identity are the time and location of their birth and the culture they live in. God is ethereal. His presence is spiritual. There are many competing religious beliefs. In other words, it wouldn’t be their fault if they didn’t believe the right thing.

If I had her beliefs and found myself worrying about good people being excluded from my God’s plan for salvation, I’d start questioning whether I’ve learned true things about my just and loving God’s plans.

I’d wonder why a just and loving god would base salvation on having the right belief. I’d consider the possibility that serious flaws were introduced into my religious text during the times it was oral tradition, then copied, then selected from among many similar manuscripts, then translated, then interpreted.

I’d consider the possibility that some of the more objectionable parts of my holy book were actually just the author’s personal human opinion, not divine revelation.

I’d wonder if the Council of Nicea was actually guided by God or just a group of men making a power grab as usual.

https://goo.gl/GIqG0a

Such doubts would be extremely helpful for her. I think she’s smart enough to realize that there’s a huge disconnect between “just and loving God” and “salvation contingent upon beliefs and worship.” She realized that she cannot enjoy heaven knowing that good people are unjustly excluded from the party.

It’s unethical and I think most modern Christians know this. It’s an unavoidable fact of their religion

The concept of hell is inescapably incongruent with the claim of a just and loving God. Infinite torture is not ethical in response to any finite crime. It would be excessive for even the most monstrous despot in human history (take your pick).

To Conclude…

I wish I could help these kind and ethically awake Christians. It’s tragic that they’ve been taught to believe such hurtful things about the nature of the cosmos and our existence. They’re left to believe they are compelled to fight to save good people from their horrific vision of a spiteful God. However, my integrity is too important to compromise.

I feel sorry for the sense of despair it must cause them when I refuse to lie to comfort them. But I won’t claim to believe just to help a Christian feel better about the unethical foundations of their religion.

But I can still be respectful to them. I will pay them the respect of patiently explaining why the arguments they present (which I’ve invariably seen or heard before) are unconvincing. I can help them face the challenges of secular morality and ethics when they’re ready to admit that absolute morals are not real. I can help them grapple with their own mortality when they’re ready to concede that heaven was an empty promise. But I know I can’t make them see this. They must chose to face it on their own.

The sense of moral disharmony Christians feel about good people being tortured is their conscience telling them that their religion is false. In the end, they will have to either face this spiritual conundrum or ignore it. That’s for them to decide, not me. But having faced it myself, I can say honestly that life is much better without the struggle to find a way to interpret reality so it fits the just and loving God assertion.

The Moral Argument for God

“But my excitement was undimmed. There were no more external, absolute rules. The supposed foundation of every ordinance, regulation, law, and maxim – from “don’t talk after lights-out” and “give way to pedestrians on the crosswalk,” to “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” “Thou shalt do no murder”… was a fake… I could behave as I wished, without fear of eternal consequences and (if I was cunning and could get away with it) without fear of earthly ones either… I acted accordingly for several important and irrecoverable years (Former atheist Peter Hitchens, Christopher Hitchens’ brother, p. 20).”

“In my thirties I found that what was almost being said seemed to be the thing I had sought to avoid so hard a few years earlier. But I still did not know what it was. I no longer avoided churches. I recognized in the great English cathedrals and in many small parish churches the old unsettling messages. One was the inevitability and certainty of my own death, the other the undoubted fact that my despised forebears were neither crude nor ignorant, but men and women of great skills and engineering genius – a genius not contradicted or blocked by faith, but enhanced by it (Hitchens, 2010, p. 103).”

His sighting in an ancient hospital in France of a painting of The Last Judgment by Rogier van der Weyden cemented Peter Hitchens’ journey back to Christianity. “But I had a sudden, strong sense of religion being a thing of the present day, not imprisoned under thick layers of time.  A large catalogue of misdeeds, ranging from the embarrassing to the appalling, replayed themselves rapidly in my head. I had absolutely no doubt that I was among the damned, if there were any damned (Hitchens, 2010, p. 103).”

Peter Hitchens’ experience as an atheist is similar to many, yet not all atheists. His words indicate he focused more on misdeeds than on good deeds, unlike some of the other atheists I’ve encountered. So-called secular humanists are people who emphasize the importance of good deeds. Many consider themselves virtuous, focusing on their families and friends and values such as empathy and equality. Examples I have encountered on Twitter include @MrOzAtheist, @Greg_MarineLab, @AtheistEngineer, @Kaimatai and @CocoAtheistNo19.

“Many theists have – in the face of overwhelming evidence – grudgingly conceded that at least some atheists can be good people (Secularhumanism.org, 2017). Grudgingly, indeed, as previous research has shown that many people (including atheists) associate atheists more than other religious, cultural, or ethnic groups with a variety of immoral acts (serial murder, consensual incest, necrobestiality, cannibalism) (Gervais, 2014). Perhaps such perceptions contribute to some atheists’ passion for humanism.

One such atheist is a person I’ve encountered on Twitter: @MrOzAtheist. I came upon his well-written blog entitled “Society vs God,” which appears to be a good take on the atheist humanist position. I endorse his position on just about every aspect, aside from the most important aspect, which is the source of the good deeds that he reveres: God. Therefore, the rest of this short essay will be devoted to explaining why God should not be excluded as an explanation of the moral fabric that guides society. It is not “Society vs God” but “Society under God.”

Mr. Oz Atheist’s blog can be summarized by a meme he created, which states: “For me it’s not necessarily about promoting atheism over theism. It’s about promoting positives such as empathy, compassion, equality, acceptance, and critical thinking over negatives such as bigotry, oppression, blind faith, and intolerance.” Such words indicate to me that Mr. Oz Atheist is in the curious position of endorsing the same values endorsed by those who practice Christianity while simultaneously denying the source of said values: Jesus Christ.

I am the vine. You are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” John 15:5

Atheists believe that moral values are simply byproducts of biological evolution and social conditioning (Craig, 2010). As noted by Michael Gerson, ‘Atheists can be good people; they just have no objective way to judge the conduct of those who are not’” (Secularhumanism.org, 2017). The objective way to judge conduct is to consider it against the objective set of moral values which guide society. The source and giver of this objective moral standard is God. William Lane Craig outlines this logic as follows (2010, p. 129):

  1. If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
  2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.
  3. God exists.

Secular attempts to provide an objective foundation for morality have been unsuccessful (secularhumanism.org, 2017), so humanist atheists call on history to suggest that “any community in which these (ethical) norms were lacking could not survive for long. This shared core of moral norms represents the common heritage of civilized human society” (secularhumanism.org, 2017).

Yet, a common heritage sorely lacks an external and objective standard against which all positive moral norms can be evaluated. Such shared norms have no external enforcer either. This equates to having a set of laws, yet no lawgiver or source of the codes against which the laws were established. It equates to having grapes without vines, branches without trees, and corn without cobs.

Secular atheists call on the classic Euthyphro argument to suggest that God is not needed to develop positive values. This argument began when Socrates asked Plato “Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?” The argument presents a false dichotomy, as it forces respondents to make one of two choices, as if there are only two choices. The third option is the answer, which is that God is love and the standard of what is pious.

Mr. Oz Atheist’s blog closes with this question: “Rather than asking an atheist why we care about life, if this is all there is, the question should be to theists – why isn’t this life – your friends, your family and your society enough?” Atheists are confronted with (in Sartre’s words) “the bare, valueless fact of existence.”

Why? The reason this life isn’t enough is because God did not intend for our spirits to expire. Instead, He intends that our spirits thrive by capitalizing on each of our unique spiritual purposes that we nurture and develop to make the world better. If we all fulfilled the spiritual purposes assigned to us by God, this world would be heaven. We would all share the intense feelings of joy that can only be felt when we are one with our Lord.

After reflecting on atheist humanism and on Mr. Oz Atheist’s blog, I have determined that he is closer to God than he realizes. I also believe he is not alone as many atheist humanists share the following characteristics with Mr. Oz Atheist: (1) they endorse shared values; (2) they believe in the Golden Rule; (3) they focus on empathy, compassion, equality, and acceptance; and (4) they desire to be happy. It is the desire to be happy that eventually leads all to God, the source of all joy and happiness.

Thank you for your time.

God’s moral law is “written on the hearts of all men” and “their conscience bears witness to them” – Romans 2:14-15

Click here to read Mr. Oz Atheist’s blog: http://mrozatheist.blogspot.com/2016/08/society-vs-god.html

References:

Craig, W.L. (2010). On Guard. Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook

Gervais, W.M. (2014). Everything is permitted? People intuitively judge immorality as representative of atheists. PLoS ONE 9(4): e92302. Doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0092302. Accessed at http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0092302

Hitchens, P. (2010). The Rage against God. USA: Zondervan.