Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Phil Zuckerman: Jesus wants you to vote Democratic

Pastor Phil is ready to
It is common for skeptics to argue that Christians betray the teachings of Jesus.  Our own pastors often tell us the same thing, and Jesus himself could be pretty hard on his disciples. I find some such sermons irritatingly self-righteous, though, especially from a preacher who forgets he's not Jesus.  Here I'll dissect one from the increasingly popular sociologist Philip Zuckerman, an atheist whose papers on how much better secular European societies are, compared to the more religious and supposedly backwards United States have spread like wildfire among the Gnu blogoscenti.  This article (co-authored by one Dan Cady, an historian in the California State system) was written last year, but seems especially relevant in the present campaign season -- as, I hope, will be the skeptical comments I append to it. -- DM

"Why Evangelicals Hate Jesus"
Posted: 03/ 3/11 10:06 AM ET

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Perspectives: Tibetan monastery

My plane was to leave early that afternoon -- I had taken a bus up onto the Tibetan plateau from Lijiang -- and then it snowed that morning.  I had visited this monastery up on the hill the day before, and thought, "Here's my chance for some very special photos."  I wish the resolution were a wee bit clearer.  Up the hill I raced before the clouds blew away: there's the spot, with horses in the fields below the monastery.  A once-in-a-lifetime shot.

The town (at my back as I take this picture) is Zhongdian, in Yunnan Province.  It's largely Tibetan, but looks typically Chinese, unlike this monastery.  I drank Tibetan tea here for the first and hopefully last time -- foul stuff -- and also got some pictures of young monks in red having a snowball fight.  Kids are kids, everywhere.  I also tried yak meat in Zhongdian, with an American who lived here, before heading across the high plateau and down into the Salween River canyon, a few days before. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

Will Atheism Replace Religion?

I just received an e-mail from South Africa:

Hi David,
Thank you for your amazing Blog (Christ the Tao) I find it very informative and inspirational in the constant debate with atheists in my country (South Africa).
Would you please have a read this link . . .  and maybe comment on it as I might be out of my depth a bit in commenting positively in good Christian way, with out getting nasty and very angry . . .

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Power Corrupts Whom?

The Christian historian John Acton is best known today for his axiom:

"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men."

Doubtless his choice of wording was patriarchal, reflecting the male power structure of his own day.  Or is it patriarchal of me, to think women are as liable to corruption as men?  (I was just reading an Amazon thread by a poster who said he was taught in his Catholic Sunday School that more women will be in heaven than men, because they are more moral.  I've heard that from men, too, incredibly enough.) 

But the question I would like to ask in this blog is, if Acton is right, as I believe he is, then who is most susceptible to corruption in modern society?  Who has the most power over others? 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A Stoic and a Taoist limp into the Church

by David Marshall

Note:  This article first appeared in the May / June issue of Touchstone, a Journal of Mere Christianity (, under the title "Mars Hill Travelers."  I hope you find the parallels and surprising suggestions of general revelation as interesting as I do. The new  September - October issue, which was just mailed -- I haven't received my copy yet -- also includes one of my articles, this one on "Lin Yutang and the New China."  Another article on John Loftus and the "Outsider Test for Faith" should appear in a later edition, perhaps later this year.  Fun to be writing about China again, and of course always great fun to see stuff in print.-- DM

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Clash of Civilizations (3rd most popular review)

Too Big a Chunk of Reality?

(*****)  132+ / 20 -

I remember noticing the essay on which this book was based, in an international newspaper several years ago. Though I knew nothing of the author at the time, I don't think it took me more than a paragraph or two to realize, first, "This is a major argument," second, "It has some validity," and third, "This is going to make a lot of people mad." The book is, of course, far more nuanced and detailed than the article. I do not agree with every point Professor Huntington makes, but it certainly carries through on the promise of those first few paragraphs. This book is one strong and rather iconoclastic model by which to understand international relations in the coming years. Even if you disagree with it, or find it offensive, this is definitely a book worth reading, or if you're a teaching, assigning your students to read and attack or defend.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Did the Gospels borrow the Buddha story?

Buddha preaching peace between warring factions in the
middle of a river. 
A few weeks ago, I was contacted by a young Christian scholar named Derek, asking for my take on the claim that the Gospels are recycled Buddhist material.  This may seem theoretically possible, because Buddha lived about 500 years before Jesus, his followers did conduct missions, Alexander the Great brought some basic knowledge of India back to the Mediterranean: the Romans had heard of the man.  (I believe Clement of Alexandria mentions him.)  It is also theoretically possible that the story of Mohandas Gandhi is a myth, patched together from recycled legends of the Cathars in Middle Ages, or from stories about Francis of Assissi.  Ideas flowed back and forth between Europe to India as well as the other way, there are some points of simliarity.

But both scenarios seem about equally incredible, to me, and for the same reason: the Gospels are as obviously historical as are the best accounts of Gandhi's life.  I make the case for that in detail in Why the Jesus Seminar can't find Jesus, and Grandma Marshall Could, and in abbreviated form, in our new book, Faith Seeking Understanding, and won't repeat all that again here.  But the question introduces some important historical principles, that I think are worth touching on. 

RNA World Scenario (chicken version)

RNA (Redundantly Nuked Apiary) World scenario for the origin of life on a life-less planet.

Begin with 10 ^ 12 chickens, recently deceased  (Colvin 2012). 

Italian parsley (freshly picked from roots.)
Oregano (dried leaves)
Place in 10 ^ 12 microwave ovens.*

* Helpful Preparation Tip: To save time, locate a planet on which chickens or chicken-like beings have been the dominant life-form, near a star about to go supernova.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Everyone hates everyone.

Or so it seems, sometimes. 

Consider the last sermon I preached at the little church in the town of Zhonghe, in Taiwan, when I was going to seminary.  It was on love.  It ended with the pastor and the most useful person in the church standing up and yelling at one another. 

Apparently this talent for instigating war by preaching peace has not deserted me. 

A couple months ago, the atheist writer John Loftus asked me to endorse the "debate" book he co-wrote with the Christian philosopher, Randal Rauser.  I read it on the plane to and from the UK, and enjoyed it very much.  I wrote the following:

This is not a quarrel, nor one of those flame wars of the deaf that rage across cyberspace then spills angrily into print, nor even that stuffy, artificial creation, a ‘religious dialogue.” What we have here is conversation: at times witty, at times tendentious, often humorous and almost always engaged on emotional as well as intellectual levels. Rauser is master of parables with a philosophical point: Loftus makes an art form of heart-on-his-sleeve pragmatism. Both land blows, yet the book contains hardly a trace of bitterness: at best, it reaches the level of a mythical, Platonic debate in a pub. Almost no one will fully agree with either writer, nor fail to enjoy the rhetorical flow.

Well it wasn't a quarrel, but it soon became one, and the "rhetorical flow" soon became less enjoyable.  Loftus cited the review on his blog, and made a few minor quibbles.  Rauser then cited both the review, and Loftus' quibbles, and made his own quibbles about those.  Our friend Crude launched an attack on Loftus. John replied with profanity and gusto, and deleted his original blog post. 

Among other things, John wrote off Christians in general, again:

I will not be linking to any Christian blogs at this point from now on. I have given them too much of an audience as it is. You're all on your own now, delusional people on a par with Scientologists, and I mean that. Damn, it's hard dealing with * for brains and acting like they have them.

Now if you go to that region of Debunking Christianity, you find instead an article (actually from a day or so previous to this little tempest in a teapot) entitled "Why is Everyone on the Internet So Angry?"

Gee, I don't know.  Beats me. 

And today John announces a new Skeptical Blog Network. Why do we need one of those?  Because PZ Myers, the doyen of the alternative Freethinkers Blog network, is (as is widely recognized)  rather a jerk, a bit of a megalomaniac, and had a vocal, angry falling-out not just with John Loftus, but with a popular anti-creationist gotcha-artist calling himself Thunderfoot, and with a whole range of atheists whom he considers insufficiently feministo.  (Apparently they don't hate men enough, or something.) 

Little-known historical footnote: Mr. and Mrs.
Giraffe quarreled and ultimately
divorced over who got to ride shotgun. 
One of John Loftus' new allies is Arizona Atheist, who is rather obsessed with trying to dis my book, The Truth Behind the New Atheism (60-plus posts and counting -- but who is counting?) and we've found necessary to swat around a bit here, in the past. 

And you wonder why God sent the Great Flood. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Earl Doherty, "12 Infallible Proofs that the Moon is Square" (3rd most unpopular review)

Earl Doherty, The Jesus Puzzle

 (*) 60 + 92 -

Earl Doherty wants us to believe that Jesus never lived. He points to twelve pieces of the historical puzzle to establish this fact, none of which, however, is both true and relevent, still less fits together with the other pieces to establish his claim. What the whole argument really establishes is how desperate and hopeless skeptical criticism is in dealing with the Gospels.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

RR Returns.

The sun also rises.
The economy has been like an airplane about to stall for three years, now.  YOUR portion of the National Debt (if you happen to be American, let's not presume) has doubled in the past several years: it is now $50,000, or $200,000 if, like me, you have a family of four.  (Can you pay your share?  Yes?  Sorry, but you may have to pay my share, too.)  Every year, Uncle Sam gets out his Monster Truck backhoe, digs a hole in the ground called "interest on the federal debt," and tosses thousands of YOUR dollars into the hole.  Actually, this is money our children will have to pay back: we are literally sending the IOU to our kids and grandkids for this massive, unfunded spending. 

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Unreason of Rationalists: Massimo Pigliucci

Yesterday the philosopher Massimo Pigliucci, a well-known atheist (he has debated William Lane Craig, for example), did something admirable and useful: he posted a list of unreasonable arguments he often encounters within the "Community of Reason."  Then he offered several suggestions about how skeptics (and one could easily add, the rest of us) ought to conduct discourse, even on the Internet.  Some of these suggestions might be reduced to the form, "Scientists and philosophers need one another."  Amen! 

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Coyotes at the Dunes

Last night (update -- Thursday night) we camped at Bruneau Sand Dunes in Southern Idaho.  It was a sparse landscape, burnt brush and sand, buttes and several sand dunes where one might expect Peter O'Toole and a troop of Arabs on camels to ride in to epic theme music, but "Western" when one points the camera away from the dunes.  We arrived after 7 PM, with the temperature still above 90, and a single baby aspen lending barely a gesture of shade at our site.  We just had time to cook and decorate hamburgers, set up our tent, clean up a bit, and look around , before dusk came on.  As the sun released its last rays through a band of reddish clouds on the horizon, then disappeared, the top third of a pumpkin-like orb appeared resting on the far horizon. 

A full moon brings out wolves, and in the middle of the night coyotes (their lean cousins) began to hunt.  We wondered where they'd been hiding, or even where their prey had been hiding, the landscape seemed so barren. But the next morning, climbing up one of the dunes, and hiking around the little lake that lay beneath the dunes (ruining our Far Side "crawling through the desert dying of thirst" poses), multiple little footprints crossed the sand between soft-green bushes and desert flowers.  Many were of strange, non-mammalian shape, like little "x's."

The desert is alive.