Sunday, August 28, 2011

Should we credit the Enlightenment for Science?

I often hear we should, even from bright, educated, and good-hearted atheists.  An Irish poster who seems to fit that description, and calls himself "Elite European Liberal" (just to tweak the other side; Brian is his nom de vie), has in my presence often rhapsodized about how the Enlightenment is responsible for everything good in the world, science of course heading the list.  I'd like to flatter myself that I've talked a little sense into him on this subject, but "when the cat's away, the mice will play," as they say -- it is hard to really convince people whose identity is tied to the Enlightenment Myth, to admit that their household god does not actually set the sun in motion across the sky. 

Yesterday, I heard it from someone else:

"The Enlightenment was the beginning of the progress we all enjoy and it was the secular institutionalizing of criticism that did it."

I called this "junk history," and recommended James Hannam's The Genesis of Science to the poster. John Croft, a kindly Australian skeptic, then replied:

"David this is not correct.

"Although the Copernican Revolution was pre-Enlightenment, the Newtonian Revolution was a product and a stimulus of it. As a secular term (rather than as used in Buddhism for example), the concept of the Enlightenment refers mainly to the European intellectual movement known as the Age of Enlightenment, also called the Age of Reason, referring to philosophical developments related to scientific rationality in the 17th and 18th centuries."

Of course I had not questioned that modern science "stimulated" the so-called Enlightenment, rather the other way around.
One must ask two questions about any claim of historical causation.  The first is often overlooked: "Is it possible?"  Did (this really helps) the alleged cause even occur before the supposed effect?  The second necessary question, assuming the answer to the first is "yes," then becomes, "So what evidence can you cite to show that A really did cause B?"

The big problem with crediting the Enlightenment for the birth of modern science, is that it is simply not possible.  That's because science was up and running full steam, long before the "Enlightenment." 

When did the "Age of Enlightenment" occur?  Three definitions.  First, Wikipedia defines it as:

"An elite cultural movement of intellectuals in 18th century Europe that sought to mobilize the power of reason in order to reform society and advance knowledge. It promoted intellectual interchange and opposed intolerance and abuses in Church and state. Originating about 1650–1700, it was sparked by philosophers Baruch Spinoza (1632–1677), John Locke (1632–1704), and Pierre Bayle (1647–1706) and by mathematician Isaac Newton (1643–1727)." (My emphasis.) 

Funk and Wagnall's agrees:

"The Enlightenment: A philosophical movement of the 18th Century characterized by rationalistic methods and skepticism about established dogmas."

Or if you prefer Oxford:

"(The Enlightenment) a European intellectual movement of the late 17th and 18th centuries emphasizing reason and individualism rather than tradition. It was heavily influenced by 17th -century philosophers such as Descartes, Locke, and Newton, and its prominent figures included Kant, Goethe, Voltaire, Rousseau, and Adam Smith."

Descartes, Locke and Newton (all Christians, BTW) are thus "influences," not "prominent figures."

Sir Isaac Newton, whom John also mentioned, published his  PhilosophiƦ Naturalis Principia Mathematica in 1687.

Newton, or at least their idea of Newton, certainly left his "stamp" on later "Enlightenment" thinkers.  But few of them could have influenced him, since he lived before them.  Newton was also one of the biggest Bible-thumpers in Cambridge, and wrote more on the Bible than he did on science. 

Newton spoke of himself, with atypical modesty, as a "dwarf standing on the shoulders of giants."  But the "giants" on whose shoulders he stood, were not Enlightenment philosophers, they were (mostly) Christian scientists who had already been developing the astronomy to which he contributed.

Great scientists emerged in Oxford and Paris in the 13th Century. In the 14th Century, Jean Buridan and Nicolas Oresme suggested that the Earth rotated. After the flowering of Medieval science in the 13th and early 14th Century (itself building on earlier discoveries), scientific development slipped a bit, due perhaps to Black Death and Humanism, which encouraged scholars to ignore recent achievements in science AND in literature.  (See C. S. Lewis' Oxford History of English Literature in the 16th Century, along with Hannam's book.)  Copernicus published before the middle of the 16th Century, followed by Galileo, Kepler, and Newton -- all well before anything that can be described as the "Enlightenment," no matter how much you stretch the term. (And some skeptics give it a pretty good workout.)  Kepler published on optics in 1604, and figured out the elliptical nature of orbits the following year. Robert Boyle's inventions, and the beginnings of the Royal Society, came in the mid-17th Century. These people had all been reading their Bibles, and all gained from earlier Medieval science (and magic!), but it is hard to see how they could have read and been influenced by Spinoza or Locke, still less Kant, Hume, Rousseau, Voltaire, of Jefferson.

In fact, Locke was Boyle's student, not the other way around!  And Boyle, like others who were close to Locke, was a zealous Christian, who stipulated in his will that money be set aside to fund lectures refuting atheism and other non-Christian beliefs!  So the influence clearly ran in the other direction. 

Unless, that it, the Fathers of the Enlightenment invented time machines, which might be a good premise for a skeptical science fiction movie.  In fact, Dr. Brown in Back to the Future does seem to spout a few Enlightenment slogans.  Mark Twain is (as I recall, it's been a while) even more "liberal" with Enlightenment cliches, in Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

But both are works of historical fantasy, the genre to which all "Enlightenment caused science" arguments must be consigned.  In really, even after the thing had gotten going, not all key Enlightenment figures were that into science. 

The one possible exception was Baruch Spinoza, a quiet, thoughtful Jewish philosopher and scientist with many Christian friends, who could have been one of many thinkers within the broad stream of late Medieval civilization to have some influence on Newton. But it is anachronistic to identify him as representing the Enlightenment, and he seems to have been only one of many important scientific and philosophical influences.

God and Science: Two Great Tastes, that Taste Great Together? 

Confucius, in case you're

At least four periods in history have seen revolutionary changes in how people see the world, from which humanity continues to benefit in tremendous ways.  The first three are part of the so-called Axial Age: ancient Greece, China during the late Zhou (Warring States) period, and ancient Israel (from the prophetic period to early Christianity).  The final such period was late Medieval Europe, which gave birth to science, among other brilliant innovations.  

At least three qualities typify all four periods: (a) cultural unity, (b) political pluralism within that unity (tribes, city-states, small nation-states), and (c) the strong intellectual influence of theistic thinking.  (To prove these points, I may need to return to this issue in another blog.)

A strong thread of skepticism and atheism arose in at least three of these four cultural circles -- Epicurus and Lucretius among the Greeks, Xun Zi in China, and of course the "Enlightenment" in Europe.   

So what is the true relationship between belief in God, skepticism, and the greatest intellectual revolutions in human history? 

It seems likely that atheism is what Marx would call a "superstructure" built upon a civilization's more basic successes, in these three cases.  The great reforms and inventions mostly come first, arising out of a culture permeated with theistic beliefs.  Skepticism is a fruit that grows on that tree, not apparently its root, unless we discover an atomic-powered De Lorean parked next to David Hume's tomb. 

Did theism in any sense "cause" or contribute to these great periods of reform, revival, and world-enriching innovations? 

This is, at least, chronologically possible.  Whether or not it is likely, I'll leave as a puzzle for the aforementioned later post.   

Monday, August 22, 2011

Was Isaiah talking about Jesus? 

What follows is an informal debate that took place some months ago between John Loftus and myself (with "Rob," a thoughtful guy whose last name I do not recall, also participating) over the "Suffering Servant" passage in Isaiah.  Is Isaiah talking about Jesus?  Jeremiah?  Israel?  Someone else? 

The informality of the conversation will be evident.  I feel inclined to apologize for that -- we do meander a bit, and it takes a while to get to the point.  Probably the heart of my argument for Jesus as the Servant Isaiah forsaw comes in posts 2, 4, 10, 11 and 14, if you're in a skimming mood.  It might even be a good idea to read #14 first; I wish I had posted it first.  But you may also enjoy the informality of the conversation: Plato's Dialogues it's not, and I overlook John's main argument for a while, but the format may be more interesting than monologue, in spite of its occasional failings in sequential reasoning.  -

John's challenge originally had to do with "background" reasons to believe in the Resurrection of Jesus.  I responded to some of his other objections, then the debate focused, in what I found an enlightening way, on Isaiah. - DM

John Loftus #1: "I defy anyone to provide for us a clear and unequivocal non-self-fulfilling prophetic text in the OT that singles Jesus out as the only person who could fulfill it using the historical grammatical method of interpretation."
"It cannot be done."

David Marshall #1: I think your argument fails in several ways, John . . .

(Fifth) What passage(s) single Jesus out as the One? I'm not sure why we have to pick just one passage -- where does that demand come from? But some of the best are obviously Psalm 22 and Isaiah 52-3, if for some arbitrary reason you have to pick just one or two.

I'm also inclined to argue that the Sage in ancient Chinese literature, especially the Analects and Dao De Jing, maybe with the Book of Poetry and Yi Jing included, may be a portrait of Christ. I can't think of anyone who fulfills that portrait more fully. But it's a collage portrait, not a single passage that you can take out of context.

John #2: David, just a comment. Isaiah 49:1-3 helps provide the context for Isaiah 42-53. The servant is Israel. Surely if anyone in today's pulpit interpreted the Bible out of context you would not like it. Why here?

Psalm 22 is not predictive prophecy! It is a prayer for deliverance and a hope that God will deliver. A prayer is not a prediction and neither is an expressed hope. A prediction, since it has escaped you must involve more than that. To take it as prophecy takes it out of context. Surely if anyone in today's pulpit interpreted the Bible out of context you would not like it. Why here?

Is this the best you got?

David #2: John: No, the servant clearly is not Israel.

How could Israel, which is consistently portrayed as sinful, be described as having done no violence and practiced no deceit? The whole OT is filled with evidence to the contrary, including Isaiah 53.

And how can Israel die for itself? ("pierced through for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities . . . ?")

Sure, Isaiah 52-3 belongs in the context of the Servant Hymns, and of the last half of Isaiah in general. Personally, I don't see how anyone can read those chapters and not see Jesus.

Nor do I see any reason to set up hard-and-fast boundaries between prayer and prediction. Let me recommend to you Nicholas Wolterstorff's Divine Discourse, if you haven't read it. An easier source to find, that makes a similiar suggestion more briefly, is C. S. Lewis' Reflections on the Psalms.

Rob #1: N.T. Wright takes an interesting middle ground, that Isaiah 53 is of Israel, but Jesus embodies Israel. Which leads us back to what I mentioned. God choose the Jews through Abraham to bless the world. And it is particularly through the message of Jesus that the book of the Jews has spread.

John #3: Marshall asserted: "No, the servant clearly is not Israel."

Whew, glad we got that one figured out.

Thanks David! I thought 49:1-3 should have been clear, and if not then either 42:18–24; or 44:1–2 would do the trick, or all of them together.

I guess not. I must be misreading them all. You must have it right despite what it says. Any Jew would quickly see the error of his ways on that one and convert to Christianity, easily. Sheesh what idiots for them not to have done so en masse.

But wait, Catholic scholar Joseph Fitzmyer in The One who is to Come argued “there is no passage in the book of Isaiah that mentions a “‘Messiah’ in the narrow sense, and all attempts to speak of Isaiah’s ‘messianic prophecies’ are still-born.” (pp. 42-43). He claims that the Servant Song of Isaiah 53 “has no messianic connotation” per se. (p. 141). And “The idea of a suffering Messiah . . . is found nowhere in the Old Testament or in any Jewish literature prior to or contemporaneous with the New Testament. It is a Christian conception that goes beyond the Jewish messianic tradition.” (p. 142).

How can a Christian conclude other than what any Jew shouldn't known according to you?

According to Christian scholarship, Isaiah’s servant is “almost certainly to be identified with Israel.” (Anchor Bible Dictionary: “Lamb.”)

Do more work on this David, for the identification of Isaiah’s servant with Jesus was based upon the Christian recasting of Isaiah 52–53 in light of the apocryphal book of The Wisdom of Solomon (chapters 1–6).

David #3: Scholars interpret Isaiah 53 in a variety of ways. Some like to think the Suffering Servant is Israel, others point out the obvious problems with that view, which I mentioned. Doing an end-around the literary evidence with appeals to authority won't work: the textual evidence is primary.

Nor is the word "Messiah" at the heart of the matter. That term has a specialized sense, and also a broader sense. You didn't even use the term in your original post. Why make a big deal about it now?

The point is, Isaiah 52-3 fits Jesus a lot closer than it fits anyone else you can name.

John #4: David: The point is, Isaiah 52-3 fits Jesus a lot closer than it fits anyone else you can name.

Not at all! The point is, Isaiah 52-3 fits Israel a lot closer than it fits anyone else you can name.


You do know about their history don't you?

Now here's the rub. If you read what I had initially said you see quite plainly that there is doubt about this. Come on and be reasonable. No hedging, fudging or making stuff up. An impartial reading of this passage in its context (did you read it?) would not lead anyone to see it as a prophecy about the Messiah, much less Jesus. Nor any of the Psalms.

David #4: "The point is, Isaiah 52-3 fits Israel a lot closer than it fits anyone else you can name."

I've already rebutted that, and you have not even tried to show where I'm wrong.

Again. First, almost nothing is more emphatic in the OT than that the Jewish people have gone away from God. This is even true of Isaiah, and even in this passage. But the Servant in this passage is "without deceit," and had "done no violence." That is the opposite of what the OT consistently says about Israel.

Second, the servant bares "our sins" and "our sorrows." Who is "us" if not Israel? How can Israel be depicted as a hero for baring its own sins? This makes no sense.

Third, not only is the Servant described in the singular -- which might, in theory, be considered allegorical -- but specific actions are ascribed to him that make no sense ascribed to the whole nation of Israel.

How can Israel "be with a rich man in his death?"

But really, the whole passage reads that way -- all of it sounds like it's talking about exactly one human being.

"An impartial reading of this passage in its context (did you read it?) would not lead anyone to see it as a prophecy about the Messiah, much less Jesus."

That's plainly untrue. Here, from Vera Schlamm, a Jewish Holocaust survivor:

"When I came to the chapter 53, it seemed so obvious that it was talking about Jesus that I thought, 'Well, this is a Christian translation, and they have slanted the text to sound that way.' So the following Friday night at Temple Emmanuel . . . I took the Scriptures from the pew . . . The wording was a little different -- but it still sounded like Jesus!"

I think anyone whose head has not been filled with contrary propaganda, will recognize Jesus in this passage immediately.

John #5: DM said "I've already rebutted that."

With an attitude like that it's no use arguing with you.

Read the relevant literature for yourself then. You will not listen to me.


David #5 (to Rob): That interpretation makes sense from Tom Wright's Hebrew-filial POV, but not from the text. Wright himself points out, in Jesus and the Victory of God, 590-591, that Jews generally found the text very confusing until Jesus made sense of it for the first Christians. They could only explain parts of it. "Indeed, the use of Isaiah 40-55 as a whole, and in its parts, seldom if ever in pre-Christian Judaism includes all those elements which later Christian theology brought together . . . "

David #6 (to John): I've read enough of the commentaries; they're all over the map. I'm surprised that you seem to want to make this an argument from authority, rather than talking about the actual text. Well, maybe not that surprised.

John #6: David, become informed. Think. Question. You have some spectacle on that I cannot remove. You don't believe me when I say this. You think it's about an argument over these texts. And you're confident you see these texts correctly. There is nothing I can say. Read Fitzmeyer. Read the Anchor Bible Dictionary entry and the relevant literature.

But most of all think. It's really not hard to do. The reason you defend these so-called prophecies is because you do not want to think the NT writers were wrong. That guides your thinking process. You cannot even entertain that they could be wrong.

I know enough to know I cannot convince you. Listen to the scholars on your side of the fence and see what happens. Do a serious investigation of all of the prophecies about Jesus.

The weight of the evidence will crush your faith eventually. But not now, not here not with me. I have better things to do.Let someone educate you whom you trust.


Rob #2: Let me say that I know of Wright's interpretation of this passage. I have read parts of his work and intend to get back to it. But let me say that this makes a lot of sense with the hybrid view:

But the Servant in this passage is "without deceit," and had "done no violence." That is the opposite of what the OT consistently says about Israel.

So let us grant that yes, this is indeed about Israel, and yet, this really doesn't match Israel. Thus Jesus does what Israel couldn't do. He fulfilled the role in Israel's place.

John, You're a religious scholar, David M is a religious scholar, It would make sense for you to tell a guy like me to go read the anchor bible commentary and then some, but it doesn't make sense to me for you to tell someone who, if he is not a biblical exegete may at least be as capable of you at analyzing the text to do the same when you could get into the details.

So why appeal to the authorities when you can dig into the thing itself?

John (to Rob) #7: Rob, the text says in three specific places that the servant is Israel. If that doesn't convince a "religious scholar" like David then nothing will. Why? Because the NT writers say differently, that's why.

What else is there to say here?

But the Servant in this passage is "without deceit," and had "done no violence." That is the opposite of what the OT consistently says about Israel.

So it surprises you that the Bible is inconsistent? Is such a thing a revelation you had never considered before?

And have you ever read some free verse poetry or listened to a pop song in today's world to make sense of every phrase in it? Sometimes it cannot be done.

In any case, it also says he did not "open his mouth" but was "silent" and talks of "his descendants" and "offspring" and that he went to "the grave" of the wicked.

Figurative or literal, eh? And why? Jesus was emphatically NOT silent at his trials.

Given the fact that the Israelites did not accept a general resurrection from the dead this could not refer to an individual. It was speaking metaphorically about a nation who had become a scapegoat, or a lesson to the other nations not to sin against Yahweh (and here we must consider the fact that the Babylonians were the scum of the earth compared to the Israelites such that compared to them the Jews were still a righteous chosen nation in the author's eyes). Surely the concept of a scapegoat was nothing new to you or to them. Only instead of a goat on the Day or Atonement is was the nation of Israel itself.

The text doesn't make complete sense but one thing I know is that it was about Israel.

The story of the crucifixion of Jesus was tailor made to fit the details of this prophecy not the other way around, anyway. THAT'S why is has the ring of truth to it. It's called prophecy historicized, and we see plenty evidence of this in the NT itself, especially from Matthew's gospel. Check out the story of Zechariah's prophecy about the Triumphant entry into Jerusalem by Jesus which is clearly a story made up given the way the four gospels treat it.

David #7 (to John #6): You've hardly answered an argument I've made in this thread. Telling me to read commentaries, when I've already read them, and found something different than you, rather than respond to the actual evidence in the actual text that undermines your interpretation, is not an answer. Scoffing at my intelligence, open-mindedness, or education, is not an answer.

I know this is largely what you do, and everyone has to have their gig. But that sort of response is like a hothouse flower: it may resonate with skeptics who flourish in a protected environment, but doesn't look healthy out in the cold, cruel world.

Get back to me when you want to respond to the textual evidence.

John #8: I did David. If you cannot see that I did then there is no way in hell you will see my points.

I was responding to Rob anyway since you are too far gone to see the nose on your face. I could point it out, take a picture of it, have you touch it, and you would still deny it exists even though you still use it to breathe.

Rob, however, even though we disagree is at least trying to be fair-minded about what is to be seen.

John #9: In other words David, you are brainwashed. I am smart enough to see the signs of it. It's written all over your face. I cannot reach you. So I'm not gonna try. It's a waste of time trying with some people. You are one such person. Wave your hand around all you want to. Claim victory. But you're losing the argument in front of fair-minded people. It's like the emperor who had no clothes on. You think you're dressed. You think you win debates and arguments. You boast about them. And you'll do so here as well.

Only you think so. You're naked as a jaybird.

So please, link here all you want to. Tell everyone to come read this. Please. It won't do your cause any good.

David #8: OK, John is finally trying to support his argument, at least to Rob.

"Rob, the text says in three specific places that the servant is Israel."

Where does it say that in Isaiah 52-53?

"If that doesn't convince a "religious scholar" like David then nothing will. Why? Because the NT writers say differently, that's why."

I have said nothing at all about NT interpretations. I've said repeatedly that it's Isaiah 53 itself that strikes me as being obviously about Jesus.

"So it surprises you that the Bible is inconsistent?"

But the issue here is whether Isaiah 52-3 is more consistent with (a) the "Israel" interpretation or (b) the "Jesus" interpretation. You can't throw out evidence that undermines your model because you argue, post hoc, that the whole Bible is inconsistent.

"In any case, it also says he did not "open his mouth" but was "silent" and talks of "his descendants" and "offspring" and that he went to "the grave" of the wicked."

Yes, and the Gospels say Jesus refused to answer his critics. His initial refusal to answer charges "amazed" Pilate (Mt. 27:12-15; Mk. 15:3-5).

It's true Isaiah is writing poetically, and a couple details do not precisely match the Gospel story. My claim was that it fits Jesus better than anyone else, not that the fit is perfect.

Of course one favored poetic device in the OT is parallelism, which may make the "grave with the wicked, death with the rich" reversal more apparent than real. But I concede it's not a perfect fit.

As resurrection, see Resurrection of the Son of God, especially the 3rd paragraph on 117, speaking of Isaiah 26. "The original Hebrew refers literally to bodily resurrection, and this is certainly how the verse is taken in the LXX and at Qumram."

In any case, of course by hypothesis, a prophet can transcend what his culture knows.

"The story of the crucifixion of Jesus was tailor made to fit the details of this prophecy not the other way around, anyway. THAT'S why is has the ring of truth to it."

Heh. That's the inevitable fallback position. I don't think it's very plausible, but it implicitly admits my original point, which is good enough for now.

David #9 (quoting Loftus)"You are too far gone to see the nose on your face . . . you are brainwashed. I am smart enough to see the signs of it . . . It's a waste of time trying with some people. You are one such person . . . like the emperor who had no clothes on . . . You're naked as a jaybird."

ROFL! That's why we keep you on the payroll, John.

Little secret: I answer posts sequentially. I hadn't gotten to the post where you finally tried to offer a little evidence, still less could I be deluding myself by pretending to ignore the supposed cogency and overwhelming intellectual force of that evidence.

Nice try, though. Just out of curiosity: when you do debates, do you all your arguments in your closing statement?

David #10: Let's consider further John's claim that the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 52-3 is Israel.

John offered two arguments for this view: the context of the Suffering Servant passages, from which he cited Isaiah 49, and an argument from the authority of OT scholars.

(1) Isaiah 49:3 does, at first glance, seem to affirm John's interpretation:

"He said to me, 'You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified."

Seems pretty straightforward, right? Read on, and not so:

"5. But now the Lord, who formed me from my birth to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to Him and that Israel might be gathered for Him . . . He says, 'It is too light a thing that you should be My servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved of Israel; I will make you a light to the nations that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth."

If this servant IS Israel, how can the servant be called to "raise up" and "preserve" the people of Judah and Israel? (And then the world?)

One can suppose, as Loftus suggests, that the poet is simply clumsy, and can't help contradicting himself. But the most obvious thing about this poet is that he is a genius. This is some of the most magnificant poetry in all literature. It's not likely he just can't keep his story straight. What is far more likely that just as the name "Israel" was a person given to a nation, here again it refers to some representative Person.

In any case, "Israel" doesn't fit, both for reasons already given, and for reasons I'll mention below.

I'll deal with John's other argument, his argument from authority, in the next post.

David #11: John cites two authorities in the attempt to support his claim that Isaiah 52-3 refers to Israel, not to Jesus. He also tells me to "listen to scholars on your side of the fence," and warns that when I do, my faith will eventually be "crushed."

The odd thing about his two appeals to authority, is that one of his sources doesn't seem to support him! Nothing he quotes from Joseph Fitzmyer actually says either than this passage refers to Israel, or that it is not in some sense a prophecy about Jesus. He appears instead to be making a technical point about whether it speaks of the "Messiah."

John's second source is the Anchor Bible Dictionary, scholar unspecified, and what looks like a pretty loose comment.

I've gone through this argument before, with a philosophy prof from the Midwest, so I had a pretty good idea what commentators say about this passage. But to refresh my memory, I followed John's advice, and looked through commentaries on Isaiah in the main library at a major West coast university.

In the time I had available, I dug out opinions on this issue from eight commentaries: four Medeival Jews, one modern liberal or skeptic, two evangelicals, and one probable Christian. (Publishers: Peter Lang, Cambridge U, New Century, IVP, Moody)

Of those eight scholars, not a single one agree with the Loftus-Anchor interpretation.

The most skeptical was by RN Whybray, who seemed offended by the idea the Suffering Servant was Jesus, and argued the author was writing about himself. He argued in his commentary on earlier passages already "that the servant . . . cannot be Israel."

The Medieval Jews were quite conflicted over how to interpret the passage. One, Saadia, said it was Jeremiah, or perhaps the prophets collectively, or perhaps Abraham. It was all rather vague. A Jew belonging to another school dismissed that view with contempt, but with no real argument. Obviously Jeremiah doesn't fit, though. A couple Jewish scholars of another school therefore claimed the Servant will come in the future -- obviously very much connecting him to the Messiah -- but simply flipping the stuff about sacrificial atonement on its head, and having the Messiah kill rich criminals.

This also is interesting because it treats "the rich" and "criminals" as parallelism, as I noted above.

The two evangelicals see Jesus writ large not only in 52-53, but in that whole section of Isaiah. I didn't have time to read too much, but they seem to give excellent reasons. Their books are called "Songs of Servant" (Henri Blocher) and "The Servant Songs: A Study in Isaiah;" will have to read more later.

So thanks, John, for the stimulating challenges.

These passages amaze me every time I read them, and fair reading of the scholarship doesn't seem to lessen the effect one whit. Certainly scholarship seems, so far, to help the "Jesus hypothesis" more than the "Israel hypothesis."

John #10: David Marshall, I agree with Arizona Atheist who wrote about you saying, "Never one to concede defeat even when all the evidence is against him, Marshall appears to be eager to be made a fool of again...[and again, and again].

Authorities? What are they? Who are they? Who knows? Who cares? I did not use them as authorities but scholars in their own right who make the case for me. Why should I have to make that case here? Is it people cannot do the requisite amount of research...that I must spend an hour typing in their arguments here? Bullshit. I already di so anyway.

Here's the problem. If the evidence does not convince Jews nor at least some Christians, then would you be so kind O wise one to tell me why the evidence should convince non-believers,including Buddhists, Hindu's?

Since I agree with Arizona Atheist about you and since I have already spent more time on you than you deserve, and since I have more productive things to do than argue with a person like you who will never concede even the smallest of detail, I'm not bothering.

David #12 (to John): Heh. (A) I pointed out three fatal exegetical flaws in your interpretation of Isaiah 52-3.

(B) I then showed that the way you presented the state of the scholarly argument is phony. Most scholars do NOT seem to agree with your interpretation of Isaiah 52-3. At least, I offered a larger sample than you did, NONE of whom agreed with you.

(C) I also showed that in context, your main defeater, 49:3, cannot refer to Israel -- as even many non-Christian scholars seem to recognize for the passage as a whole.

You respond by pretending (against B) that scholars are really all on your side, and by citing -- get this -- Arizona Atheist? (aka "Gifted Writer" aka "Angry Atheist" aka Ken?) A guy who, when confronted (not just by me) with the absurdity of his arguments, those he is willing to show, that is, laspses into fantasies about the death of his opponent, pornographical posts, and obscurity of the kind we all know and love -- I'm right because no one is going to follow me to THIS web site and prove me wrong?

Brilliant, John. I wasn't honestly expecting a great argument from you, but your response still kind of surprises me.

David #13: By the way, your claim that I "will not concede even the smallest detail" is also nakedly and plainly false.

In one of my last posts, for instance, I conceded that on the face of it, 49:3 seems to support your reading of the Servant Songs.

I also conceded that some passages in Isaiah 52-3 do not easily fit my model.

You seem to be projecting your own unwillingness to see or admit the gaping holes in your argument.

John #12: Rob, what more need I say?

Really? What is there about my response that I left out and needs further explanation?

And where did David say anything about the Psalms as prophecy? They are clearly not prophetic! So rather than say anything about that all I got was silence.

Silence. Crickets chirping.

Oh but wait, here comes David now, and without even attempting to answer why anyone who is not already a believer should think Isaiah 52-53 is about Jesus maybe he'll proof text and proclaim victory again.

This is not the kind of person that can be reached by reason and evidence.

Imagine this scenario: David is evangelizing and the potential convert asks me what I think. I share it. On this issue is there any doubt but that the potential convert will not be persuaded by David?

That's the point. That's why we need an Outsider Test.

David #14: Here's a brief account of elements in Isaiah 52-53 that fit or do not fit Jesus.


(1) The context (52:7) is "good news" announcing peace.

(2) This is a universal peace, "the Lord has bared his holy arm in the sight of all the nations, that all the ends of the earth may see the salvation of our God." (52:10)

(3) The servant will be "greatly exalted." (52:13)

(4) Paradoxically, his appearance wil also be "marred more than any man." (52:14) (One should take this as OT hyperbole, meaning, "really messed up.")

(5) He will "sprinkle many nations," referring to some sort of redemptive activity, like substitutionary sacrifice in which blood was sprinkled on the tribes. (52:15)

(6) Because of the servant, "kings" will learn something they didn't know before, presumably about the work of God. (52:15)

(7) The Servant was "despised and rejected," and "we" (presumably the Jewish people) did not esteem him. (53:3)

(8) He would thought to be punished by God. (53:4)

(9) But in reality he would bare "our" griefs and sorrows. (Note the parallelism, relevent to below.) This is the main theme of the passage, and is repeated many times, in striking rhetoric. Some overlap with (5).

(10) He was "pierced" and "crushed for sin . . . some commentators say this implies a violent death. (53:5) "He was cut off from the land of the living." (53: 8) Makes it clear that the violence did in fact end in death.

(11) He "did not open his mouth." (53:7) (Again, this is not a perfect parallel -- Jesus refused to answer at one stage of his trial, but later talked to Pilate.)

(12) "He had done no violence, nor was their any deceit in his mouth." (53:9) Both literally and in an expanded, figurative sense, true of Jesus. Aside from chasing money-changers from the temple, Jesus refused to take up arms -- unlike most OT heroes. He was truthful. He was also "innocent" and "holy" in a deeper sense.

(13) The pair "His grave was assigned with wicked men, yet he was with a rich man in his death" may count either way. Isaiah is using a lot of parallelism, and it is probably fair to take this enigmatic pair in the same way -- his death involved both a rich man and wicked men. Some commentators put the two together -- a rich, wicked man. Of course the exact wording reverses the NT description. Which makes one wonder: if the Gospel writers were making up facts to force parallels, why didn't they make Joseph a rich sinner? Anyway, a strong but imperfect parallel.

(14) "He will see the light of life." (Dead Sea Scrolls.) Clearly suggests resurrection after death.

Does not quite fit:

(1) Rich man, sinner, see above.

(2) Booty with the strong? (53:12) Sounds like a tribal warlord after a battle. Probably just a poetic way of saying, "He will be richly rewarded for his suffering." As the NT says, "For the joy that was set before him, he endured the cross."

All in all, the parallels are deep, unique, and astounding. The differences are trivial and poetic. Again, I challenge anyone to find someone whom this passage describes better than Jesus. Israel obviously won't do, nor will Jeremiah.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

How Jesus Has Liberated Women VI: Lamest Rebutals

In a series of six posts over the past few months, I have argued that, contrary to all caterwauling, over the past two millennia, the Gospel of Jesus has done more than anything else to liberate women around the world. The argument began when atheist John Loftus glibly claimed (as you have no doubt heard many times) that Christianity has terribly oppressed women. I responded off the cuff:

"Resolved: That the Gospel of Jesus has done more to help more women than any other teaching in the history of Planet Earth. I challenge you, John."

John declined the challenge, and went on merrily repeating his claim. But several skeptics asked me to show how Christianity has liberated women, even without a debate partner.

I eventually posted five more blogs doing just that. First, in Part I, I introduced the question, and looked for ways of answering it. In Part II, I told my story, how God led me to work against the sex slave trade and help liberate oppressed women, in East Asia.  Part III offered an overview of the status of women around the world, showing that most countries where women enjoy a high status have been deeply influenced by the Bible.  In Part IV, I showed historically how the Gospel has in fact liberated billions of women, not only in "Christian" countries, but in China, India, Africa, Japan and Korea (at least).  Finally, in Part V, I analyzed every relevant verse in the gospels, showing that the impulse that liberated billions of women clearly originated in the teaching and acts of Jesus.

I expected criticism, and was not disappointed.  (At least as to quantity.)  Over 500 responses of one sort or another were posted, mostly in response to my arguments, in the ensuing conversations here, on Amazon, on Loftus' Debunking Christianity blog, plus some I think on Pharungula

Later, I may reply to the best of these challenges. But to clear the air and (in some cases) for a bit of comic relief, here are the "Ten Lamest Rebuttals on Christianity and Women."

(10) John Loftus: "I know your arguments David. I used them myself."

Both claims are highly unlikely.  John's comments on the subject invariably glide right past my main arguments, and I don't think he's read much of my writing.  Had John even noticed the international UN study I relied upon?  Had he read Stark, or Mangalwadi, or for that matter met the people I have interviewed on the front lines, fighting sexual exploitation in Asia for the sake of Christ.

(9) From Anne Rice, the famous vampire novelist and author of Out of Egypt:

Image result for anne rice"I'm not interested in going to someone's blog and reading the posts there. I will say this: Christianity has never been kind to women, except in its very earliest days.  That was when Christians thought the world was going to end shortly.  As soon as it became an organized religion it oppressed women.  Christians are famously against the equality of women, the rights of women, and women's suffrage."

In response to this criticism on Amazon, I posted some of my more pertinent historical arguments, including much of Part III, the raw data showing that the status of women around the world is consistently higher in countries with a Christian background, in the forum where we were talking. Unfortunately, Anne did not respond to that.

But note the word "famously." This is an Ad Populum argument: everyone knows such and such to be the case, so it must be so!  I am fully aware of challenging conventional wisdom in this series.  Faced with a massive amount of empirical evidence that the Gospel has blessed women, it's not enough to just say, "But everyone knows it hasn't!" 

Mary Slessor, missionary to
Nigeria who radically changed how
womenand children were treated. 
(8) Anonymous: "I would like to point out that women have virtually never been 'allowed' to be preachers, priests or church leaders . . . The Roman Catholic church, with probably the largest single block of Christians will not have women priests.  The Episcopalians are caving a bit but not very fast.  Many Christian women are undervalued and under educated.  I am of course discussing the USA first and foremost.

"David B. Marshall not withstanding, the Christian faith has not valued women very much [unless we are making babies and sacrificing all we have for our husbands and children]."

This was one of the most popular responses, as I expected it to be.  I call it "lame" not because it irrelevant or unworthy of response, but because it does not take into account the vast scope and life-and-death character of the reforms described in my posts.

I show how people inspired by the Gospel rescued millions of women from having their bones broken for fashion, being burned on their husband's funeral pyres, being shut indoors for life, or being sold as children into prostitution.  (I once participated in the latter rescue work to some extent myself.)

Many churches don't allow women to be priests?  Give me a break.  In a perfect atheist world, there wouldn't be any priests.  Shouldn't an atheist credit the Church for protecting women from wasting their lives, then? 

(7) Angela Hoescht and an anonymous blogger whom I suspect is her as well, posted a critique that was also vacuous in an interesting way.  She began by throwing out a series of intimidating (I guess she hoped) criticisms of my methodology, choice of vocabulary, etc:

The term 'Biome' is used by scientists to classify particular ecosystems according to their vegetation structure, environmental characteristics, physiognomy. Hence, it is ridiculous to speak of 'the' biome, but only 'a' biome. This whole section borders on the inane . . . Really, David, you don't even know what you're talking about here and you expect people to take you seriously?

Apparently, in a long series of posts, I must have used the word "biome" in place of "biosphere," the intended term.  Certain kinds of skeptics make much of such typos in lieu of actually engaging the argument, for obvious reasons. 

A second post immediately followed, from someone calling (her)self "Anonymous,"
which went on in the same vein and style for some time. I didn't define my words clearly.  I am historically uncritical.  I'm "not thinking hard."  I invent a scurrilous historical methodology.

All this came in response to Part I; the poster evidently hadn't read the more substantial historical arguments later in the series at all.  But after all this posturing and posing, (Hoescht) finally offered a single substantive argument, and that is where things become amusing and interesting:

"As far as 'healthier' and 'longer lives', you should take a look at the several statistical studies that have linked religiosity and health, for instance at the Office for National Statistics UK.  I don't think you are going to like what you find there, especially for female health.  Here, for instance is a 2001 study which reports that the incidence of poor heath among muslim, christian and jewish females is several percentages higher than the males, and that muslims, christians and jewish reported more ill health than the general population."

Sure, let's look at that study.  Here's the first graph given on the website, a 2001 survey of health complaints by residents of the UK of various religions, corrected for age:

Notice that it shows that male AND female Christians report not more, but FEWER health problems than Muslims, Hindus (with a huge gender disparity for these two), Buddhists, "no religion," and "others."  The only group that reported better health was Jews, the other group imprisoned in a tradition informed by a biblical paradigm.   

So after all the pretentious, hand-waving blather, the only concrete argument Angela and Co offer actually extends and supports the case I am making, while pulling the rug out from herself, sending her own arguments crashing to the ground with a loud "thump."   

(6) "Absolutely!  Being blamed for original sin and the fall of the human race, tortured in the Inquisition, burned at the stake as witches, declared unworthy and too unclean to perform priestly duties, being traded and bred like livestock and having laws enacted that deny you basic rights of self-determination has been AWESOME!"

I suspected this poster had not read the articles.  But when I asked, she admitted,

"They are well-written and obviously well-researched articles with many excellent points. I tip my hat to you as a writer!"

All right, well thank you.  Apparently the poster thought, rather than debate my "well-researched points," she'd go after issues I hadn't raised -- the best defense is a good offense, and all that. I'll deal with some of these arguments later in the series.

I do wonder what she meant by "being bred like livestock," though.  Normally when a farmer buys a hen, the chicken stays in the hen-house and is mated to a rooster.  The farmer's treatment of a new wife is generally rather different, even if mating and production of a new generation of human beings also occurs.  Is reproduction itself the problem? 

In the ancient world, children often had little choice about whom they would marry.  As Rodney Stark shows, if anything, Christianity gave women more choices. 

(5) Arizona Atheist (Ken): "I doubt the bible had much of an influence on the European countries (I’ve read completely the opposite, by the way), and you fail to cite your source so there is really nothing for me to rebut without more information.  Second, if Christianity did have an effect you should see it wherever Christianity is located (at least to some degree) but clearly we do not (and it’s actually getting worse), therefore, your argument is faulty."

I show, in Part III, that most countries in the world where the status of women is high, have a Christian background.  That is what leads this poster to try to deny what would seem undeniable, that Christianity has deeply influenced European culture over the past 1700 years. 

My initial response to Ken's skepticism about whether the Bible "had much of an influence" on Europe was simple incredulity:

"Have you read no European history at all?  Never dipped into the Divine Comedy or Fairy Queen?  Never listened to Bach or Handel?  Or even, for that matter, read any Bacon, Hugo, or Voltaire?"

But Ken's apparent assumption that modern Western culture was created by modern westerners fifteen minutes ago, unfortunately seems quite common.  Most seem to credit the high status of women in the West to something called "feminism," which they imagine appeared in the 1960s, the 19th Century, or during the "Enlightenment."  This is just one of many forms of historical amnesia that the West seems to suffer from, typified by pejorative use of the word "Medieval."

Unfortunately it also just ignores many of the facts given in these blogs.  Christianity began helping women from the very beginning, in the person of Jesus himself.  That positive impact continued in Antiquity and the Middle Ages.  Furthermore, great modern reform movements, around the world, were usually inspired by the Bible, and through Christian missions in particular.  These are the facts, documented in detail in the series, in enough cases with citations (Stark, Gies, etc): it does no good to ignore them. 

(4)  Tokolosi: "The change in women's rights and roles in the past 50 years is *entirely* due to changes in cultural norms *away* from Christian/Biblical values, which the church fought all the way... but now conveniently embrace.  These "conservative Christian" women blessed enough to be alive at this time to enjoy their current status are blissfully ignorant of history.  (Of course, Sarah Palin is ignorant of nearly everything, but that's another issue.)  Your premise is total BS."

Another reader who spouts out without drinking first.  Posts 3, 4, and 5 are all about history and biblical values.  Most of the data I offer clearly involves changes that began, and even that occurred, hundreds or thousands of years ago, not "in the past 50 years."  "What do they teach them in these schools?"   Not history, apparently.  

(3) From a female biologist: "the people who support David's premise are conservative Christians who have testes."

A form of the "genetic" fallacy only a biologist could love. 

(2) Seraphimblade: "I mean, the church has always been so good to women.  Forcing rape victims to marry their attacker (if they're lucky, if they don't scream loud enough they get killed right alongside instead), repressing their sexuality (often under threat of violence), telling them they're "unclean" for a perfectly natural biological process that happens to every woman around once a month, and of course, demanding they "submit" to their husbands.  Oh, I forgot, they also of course "protect" the poor little dears from having any type of leadership position in their organization.

"Ah, but that's ancient history, you say . . .

"So now, you have a culture that still is highly sexually repressive, especially for women (the whole "purity" thing), wants to force women to act as incubators for unwanted pregnancies, still by and large looks askance at women who seek any type of position of power (and many fundamentalists are against women doing anything but babies and cooking), were at the forefront of attempts to deny women the right to vote, hold office, and work, deny children comprehensive sex education (while this is harmful to everyone, it's especially harmful to women, who must bear the heaviest consequences of this lack of education), and overall seem to want to go back to the "submit" days.

"Your blog can't change reality.  And reality is, Christianity is bad news for women's rights.  I don't even have to be a woman to know that."

Like many other responses, this post simply ignores all the historical, sociological and bibilical facts I gave in Parts III, IV and V. 

My method in these posts was to begin with neutral, general data that gives us an objective view of the status of women around the world.  Answers that cherry-pick incidents in 2000 years of history, either favorable or unfavorable, should not be given the same status either as international surveys, as sweeping historical trends, or as a complete study of gospel references. 

The poster's talent for bombast is, however, impressive. 

Isn't it curious that Christians are blamed (here, and elsewhere) both for making women "breeders" and also for "repressing" sexuality?

What does that mean?  That the Bible reinforces the family.  It therefore tells us to be "fruitful, and multiply," but to do that within committed and loving relationships. 

How horrible is that!  How many millions of kids today don't know what the word "Daddy" (or, sometimes, "Mommy") means because their parents think the biblical stress on sexual self-discipline and commitment should be ignored?

There's a lot more ranting I'd like to do on that subject, but you've been patient enough.  It's time we announced the winner of the prestigious new Lamest Rebuttal Award.

Drum roll . . . And the winner is:

(1) "I'll bet the only thing David is an "expert" at, is wife-beating."

Yes, I have to admit I do beat my wife up sometimes. Just this morning, for example, I was translating a paper by about 6:30, while she was still sound asleep.  This sometimes happens when you're a morning person. 

It is hard to see why this lucky guess about my sleeping habits is relevant to our subject, though. And contrary to the claim that that's the "only" thing I'm skilled at, most people admit that I'm good at other things, too -- parallel parking, for instance, and making pizzas.  But for some obscure reason, Amazon deleted all of this character's ditsy and obscure, if harmless, comments.  Perhaps they disapprove of what C. S. Lewis called "chronological snobbery."

Next article in the series: Acts of the Apostles, on women.  

Monday, August 08, 2011

The Face of Norwegian Christianity: Tale of 2 Activists

 Which is the True Face of Norwegian Christianity? 

A Tale of Two Activists

On the 22nd of July, Anders Breivik set off bombs at government buildings in Oslo, killing eight people.  He then took a Ruger mini-14 carbine and Glock pistol and drove to an island camp for young people nearby, and went on a shooting spree, murdering another 69 people associated with the Worker's Youth League, most in their late teens and early twenties. 

A Norwegian policeman described him as a "fundamentalist Christian," a phrase that has been constantly repeated.  (These days, a lie can get ALL the way around the world while the truth is still putting its boots on.)  Brevik has thus almost become the face of Norwegian Christianity for the world.  As evidence, his 1569 page manifesto, A European Declaration of Independence is often cited. 

In that document, Breivik does indeed describe himself a Christian.  He uses the word "Christian" or "Christianity" some two thousand times, quotes many Bible verses, and depicts himself as fighting for a European civilization of which Christianity is a defining element.  A Crusader cross appears on the first page of the manifesto. 

Was Breivik motivated by the Bible, or the teachings of Jesus?  Am I comitting the "true Scotsman fallacy" for even asking if Breivik was a "real Christian?"  Is that how we should picture Norwegian Christianity?  Fjords, fishing boats, and mass murder at summer camp?

In this post, I'd like to go deeper than just responding, "Breivik was not a real Christian."  After analyzing the "Bible-thumper gone wild" meme, I'd like to compare Breivik to a young Norwegian farmer who lived two hundred years ago, who resembles Breivik in some startling ways, but who was a very different kind of "Christian," who transformed Norway in remarkable ways, and provides a more genuine symbol of Norwegian Christianity.   

Who is Anders Breivik?

Anders was born to a nurse and a diplomat who divorced when he was just one year old.  Anders grew up, he recounts, in a matriarchal household, which "completely lacked discipline, and contributed to feminizing me."  He kept in touch with his father, who was living in Paris, until the age of 16, when he and his friends were caught spraying graffiti on walls.  After that, the father broke off all contact with his boy.

Anders proved a talented young businessman.  He was able to amass hundreds of thousands of dollars in his late teens and early 20s. 

One comes to Breivik's A European Declaration of Independence with two sets of questions.  First, how could he justify murdering so many innocent young people?  Second, why did he think doing so would further his cause, rather than prompt Europeans to turn against everything he stood for in disgust? 

What is striking about A European Declaration of Independence is how thorough and, in a sense, internally consistent it seems.  Anders Breivik is obviously intelligent and organized. He writes in fluent English. The document is usually internally consistent, and offers arguments on an astonishing variety of subjects: the failure of aid to Africa (Chinese treatment of African states as clients or equal partners works much better), judo techniques, the value of steroids, medals for martyrs, beet farming, how to hide knives on one's person.

Much of this is quite lucid.  If you were to overlooking the more chilling passages, one might find some of his arguments convincing.   

Brevik makes two essential points: (a) Muslim immigration into Europe threatens the cultural unity and character of Europe. (b) Violence is required to stop it.  In the last half or so of the document, he goes into rich detail on the kinds of violence necessary, the goals of that violence, and how to carry it out. 

It is correctly reported that Breivik quotes a lot of convervatives in his manifesto.  He seems especially indebted to Robert Spenser, author of Jihad Watch, and Bat Ye'or, the Coptic Egyptian historian and author of The Decline of Eastern Christianity Under Islam.  Most of these citations are given to buttress the first point, with which most conservatives agree.  Breivik also cites Locke, Jefferson, Mark Twain, and Gandhi!  He also makes extensive use of Wikipedia. 

Breivik seldom sounds flagrantly crazy.  He admits limitations.  He does not call for a Holocaust -- Hitler was a "traitor" to the German people -- and grants that Muslims have a right to their own lands.  (Though his map of the world as it should be in the future also carves out small but significant ME territories not only for the Jews, but gives more than half of Turkey to the Armenians, and creates states for Coptics -- the Sinai peninsula -- and Syrian Christians.) 

Breivik fears that Islam will conquer Europe, as it has slowly conquered other lands in the past.  He charts this history in detail.

(Is Breivik right about the danger Islam poses to European civilization?  I'm of two minds about this question -- which I think I'll save for a later post.)   

Medieval Europeans saw the Jews as a domestic threat parallel to Islam, which is why some carried out pogroms against Jews in Germany before setting out on the Crusades.  Breivik also sees domestic enemies, but is not an anti-Semite.  "Marxists" and other "traitors" serve as the domestic foe, instead.  In fact, he suggests that if only Harry Truman had excecuted some 100,000 Marxists, America would not have experienced the "revolution" of the late 1960s. 

Breivik offers detailed estimates for how many "Category A and B traitors" are present today in various countries of Western Europe, the total figure being some 400,000.  These are his primary enemies.  He also believes that an attack on a large group of Muslims would set off riots that would further his cause. 

Breivik's methodical planning for a modern Crusade is, at times eery and chilling. 

Breivik logically, and "rationally," discusses how many civilians it would be justifiable to kill, if one could find Category A or B traitors concentrated in one spot. It would be OK to wipe out a few buildings to kill dozens of traitors, he concludes.  A small nuclear device -- ironically, he contemplates an alliance with Muslim terrorist groups to obtain such a device -- that destroys a few city blocks, may be justified to take out a larger concentration of traitors.  But more than that, would be too much!

"Copy your enemies, learn from the professionals," Breivik suggests, talking about how European "Justiciar knights" should borrow the Muslim practice of paying homage to martyrs.

Indeed, I have argued elsewhere that the Crusaders themselves seem to have borrowed key ideas about holy warfare from Islam.  In a sense, this is a normal kind of reaction to a threatening foreign culture. 

Was Breivik a "Christian?"

Clearly, Breivik sees Christianity as a useful flag around which to rally Europeans, as Hinduism, Buddhism, and Judaism are useful flags around which to rally other nations. Christianity "should serve as the uniting symbol for all Europe, whether they are agnostics or atheists." He also thinks it can't hurt to pray when you're about to shoot a bunch of traitors: even if there is no God, one may derive some placebo affect, apparently.  In a section called "Christian justification of the struggle," Breivik quotes ten or fifteen Bible verses, also some crusading popes, to debunk the idea that Christianity implies pacifism.  But one should not be impetuous, like Peter with the sword: "Self-defense has to do with wisdom, understanding, and tact." 

In Breivik's vocabulary, anyone who opposes Muslim domination of Europe can be a "Christian," even if you don't believe in God:

"A majority of so-called agnostics and atheists in Europe are cultural conservative Christians without even knowing it."

Breivik does not claim to be very religious himself, but recognizes the value Christianity has had for European civilization:

"I'm not going to pretent I'm a very religious person as that would be a lie.  I've always been very pragmatic and influenced by my secular surroundings and environment." 


"It is therefore essential to understand the difference between a 'Christian fundamentalist theocracy' (everything we do not want) and a secular European society based on our Christian heritage (everything we do want).  (Emphasis Breivik's.)

In the end, European Declaration of Independence has something of the feel of an alternate on-line world. Breivik could have been a good sci-fi novelist or fantacist. But his work lacks enough of a human touch even for a Dune, still less a Middle Earth. It's a tour de force creation, but a sterile place, not so much too logical, as emotionally lacking.  (Despite a nice photo of the young madman with his mother and [I assume] sister at its end.)

All in all, I'm inclined to agree with Breivik's self-diagnosis.  With all the Category A and B traitors in Europe, not to mention Muslim gangs, why did he go after a bunch of kids about the same age he was, when his father wrote him out of his life for a juvenile prank?   

By contrast to Anders Breivik, Christ was the center of the life of another young Norwegian, who had a far greater impact on his nation.    

Hans Hauge and the Birth of Modern Norway

Hans Hauge led a life that parallels that of Anders Breivik at many superficial points.  Neither received much formal education.  Both farmed successfully.  Both made a good deal of money running businesses.  Both were ideologically intense.  Both saw the state church as corrupt, bending to the winds of secular ideology.  As a young man, Hans was sometimes troubled by dreams of murder. 

In their "Christian faith" and impact on Norway, the two men could not have been more different, however. 

Hans Nielsen Hauge was born into a family of prosperous and pious farmers in 1771, about 65 miles from Oslo.  During his youth, Enlightenment thinking was defeating pietism in much of Norway.  The state Lutheran church proved little defense against skeptical thinking, since it had become a power monopoly, more than a fellowship of sincere believers.

Almost ninety percent of Norwegians were bonder or peasants.  The farming class had little power in the Norway of Haugue's youth, though they had begun to own most of their own farms by this time. 

Hans did not seem an overly impressive youth:

"I was often mocked and considered a simpleton.  Indeed, I looked upon myself as of less ability than others . . . When there were rumors of a plague or war, then I was afraid to die and seemed to feel something mysterious which encircled me . . . Often when I slept, I dreamed about heaven, and at other times about hell, and murder and other frightful things.  But when I prayed to God before I fell asleep, then I could rest and did not dream about such things."

Hans was, as this shows, intensely interested in religion.  Along with pious
contemporary books, he immersed himself in the Bible, and spent a great deal of time in prayer -- being mocked by other young people for his zeal.  One of his biographers, Magnus Nodtvedt, notes that in his autobiography, "there is revealed a distinct dependence on his Bible reading, a study of the Lutheran Church's sermon books and of a rich spiritual and doctrinal heritage of Lutheran hymnology."

At the age of 25, Hans underwent a "baptism of the Spirit" that changed the course of his life.  He was working in the field, singing "Jesus I long for Thy Blessed Communion." 

"Mightily strengthen my spirit within me,
That I may learn what Thy Spirit can do!  . . .
All that I am and possess I surrender
If Thou alone in my spirit may dwell;
All will I yield Thee, my Savior so tender
Take me and own me, and all will be well."

Hans tells what happened next:

"When I had sung the second verse . . . my mind was so lifted up to God that . . . I was beside myself . . . When I began to regain my wonted reasoning power, I experienced a profound sense of regret that I had not served the good and kind Lord as I ought and that I deemed nothing in the world really mattered.  And my soul experienced something supernatural, divine and blessed . . . something glorious such as no tongue can express, that I remember to this day as clearly as if it happened a few days ago . . . "

Hans felt great sorrow for a world "immersed in evil," a feeling of God's presence, and a sense of humility and joy. 

He began to travel around Norway, preaching the Gospel, often to small groups (he remained essentially shy), making friends, and writing books infused with a simple, Bible-based love of God.

The elite was not pleased to find an uneducated peasant breaking the law, as they saw it, by preaching in public.  Hans was arrested some eleven times, beaten, and finally imprisoned for ten years. 

Like modern Christians I have met in the city of Wenzhou, on the coast of China south of Shanghai, Hans remained a farmer and entrepreneur, even as he went around preaching the Gospel.  With the help of friends, he started a series of businesses, even bought ships and conducted trade.  The Powers-That-Be were suspicious: one bishop noted that while he had found no evidence that Hauge was exploiting or defrauding anyone, there was potential for him to do so.  But it seems no such evidence ever turned up: Hans was as generous with his money as his friends had been, seeding capital for many of the earliest businesses run by the peasant class.  He believed that idleness was a serious sin, that women could work in the fields with men, and men could learn how to make clothes.  Manual labor, along with reading, praying, and singing hymns, should be part of a Christian's spiritual life. 

Hauge's movement helped enable the "Rebirth of Norway's Peasantry," -- the title of Nodtvedt's book.  An historian named Johnsen explained:

"Just as the Haugeans forged ahead in the face of much opposition -- to religious revival -- so too the endevours which the friends of Hauge displayed, in imitation of Hauge, to acquire economic self-sufficiency, brought them into conflict with the exclusive aristocracy of wealth . . . Thus the movement . . . created a new class sentiment and a new feeling of independence, and by so doing laid the foundation for the political and social conflect between bonder and the aristocracy of wealth that led to a new freedom -- for Norway's common bonde -- in the 19th Century." (Ibid, 150-1)

Even while kept prisoner, Hans helped his fellow Norwegians.  During the Napoleonic Wars, Denmark and Norway (which were united, Denmark being the lead partner) fought on the side of Napolean.  Great Britain imposed an embargo on Norwegian trade.  People went hungry, and there wasn't enough salt to preserve fish. Hans petitioned the government to allow him to use his business acumen to found salt works.  He was released long enough to successfully organize those works, then sent back to prison! 

Eventually Hans was released, paid some compensation for goods seized, and settled on a farm.  He spent the last ten years of his short life farming and encouraging followers, in person and by letter. 

So, Who Represents the True Face of Norwegian Christianity?

Anders Breivik, who quoted a few verses in one section of a 1500 page manifesto, to prove that "Christians" may defend themselves?  Or Hans Hauge, whose life, thought, and work was infused with biblical teachings?

Breivik, who claimed that atheists and agnostics should be called Christians, too?  Or Hauge, who challenged Norway to a deeper relationship to God?

Brevik, who saw Christianity, like Hinduism, as a flag around which to rally Europeans against foreigners?  Or Hauge, for whom revival began by recognizing his own sin, and whose life was bathed in prayer, singing, and Bible-reading? 

Breivik, who murdered innocent young people because they belonged to the wrong political party?  Or Hauge,  who was mocked, beaten, and imprisoned, but never lifted his hand against those who abused him? 

I think everyone who has known real Norwegian Christians, will have bridled at the insinuation that Anders Breivik was himself a Christian, or in any way represented genuine Norwegian Christianity.  Those I have had the chance to know, have seemed a whole lot more like Hans Nielsen Hauge. 

But I bet you've never heard of him before, have you? 

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Happy Birthday, Blog!

Christ the Tao has gotten off to a modestly successful start in it's first year.  Taking it for a spin around the blog, as it were, I've posted just 46 (now 47) times, a little less than once a week.  I've tried, on the other hand, to offer arguments a bit more substantive than the norm for the format, including responses to a variety of skeptics, a series on how Christianity has helped women, posts on great missionaries, world religions, and the reliability of the Gospels.  What we lack in quantity, we try to make up in quality.  I've also posted pictures from places along the way -- Iceland, Oxford, the Cascade mountains -- and even a little political satire.

The site has recorded approaching 14 thousand page visits the first year, with some 700 comments from probably most of a hundred people.  The numbers have grown steadily over the past several months.  Thanks for visiting, and letting us know what you think!

But we're just getting warmed up.  I've started to figure out some of the basics, and am having fun with the site.  In the future:

* Short term -- expect more interesting articles.  Next up: "The True Face of Norwegian Christianity."  As usual for Christ the Tao, in this article I will seek to go beyond the talking points, and dig for deeper truths, not only about Anders Breivik and the murders he committed in and near Oslo, and his alleged Christian identity, but about how Christianity has helped to form Norway, as surely as but more deeply than the glaciers that carved its fjords. 

* Don't be surprised if you see more debates, not least with atheists.  (Though maybe we should pick on someone else, for a change.)  I argue, therefore I am.   

* Also look for more profiles of great Christians who crossed cultural divides to change the world, including (hopefully) by other scholars. 

* Look for more about our upcoming anthology, Faith Seeking Understanding, perhaps including exerpts from some of the wonderful contributors.  I'll probably be posting a list of contributors pretty soon -- an impressive group.   

* Other books and articles are also in the works, including my dissertation, which aims no less than to change how the world sees Christianity in its relationship to other faiths.

* I also plan to continue posting scenes and experiences from diverse, strange, and (usually) beautiful places, as I have the good fortune of visiting them.

* Who knows what else will turn up? 

* I also hope (well, probably -- let's be honest!) to hear from you.