Friday, December 30, 2016

A Wind in the House of Islam

I am presently reading a book called A Wind in the House of Islam. The book describes something new in the world: after 13 centuries without any large groups of Muslims turning to Christ (aside from two towards the very end), in recent years dozens such movements have sprung up, in all parts of the Muslim world.
One important fact I have learned from this book, is that the Fulfillment Model of how Christianity relates to world traditions, which I developed for my doctorate and in some of my books, also applies to Islam and even the Quran. I resisted that conclusion until this morning. How Jesus Passes the Outsider Test: the Inside Story, for instance, focused on Hebrew, Greek, Norse, Indian, and Chinese traditions. I ignored Islam because: (a) Mohammed was, in my view (still) an unusually bad man; (b) he wrote the Quran, whatever Muslims claim; (c) it's not a very good book, sorry again Muslims; (d) if the Quran can lead people to Christ, why hasn't it?
But it turns out that it is doing just that, right now:
"First we show them from the Quran that only Isa al-Masih is the Savior, and then we baptize them. Then we give them the Bible and we disciple them. Over time, they move away from the Quran and into the Bible, though they continue to use the Quran to bring other Muslims to faith in Isa."
That's from a "Muslim" leader in Bangladesh, who himself became a Christian when someone asked him why he was reading the Koran in Arabic without understanding it, and he began to read what it really said -- more than he dreamed about Jesus.
So I'm going to have to disagree with my friend Don Richardson on this. I still think Mohammed was a bum, and the Quran isn't much of a book, as holy scriptures go. But apparently God is (if I can put it this way) more clever than I gave Him credit! It seems He has booby-trapped even a book of heresy to point true seekers to His Son.
Anyway, interesting book, you might like it. Probably better not let too many ISIS terrorists get ahold of the book, though.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Why did Jesus Die? Loftus vs. Lewis

This morning, when I confessed that I was in process of reading John Loftus' new book, Unapologetic: Why Philosophy of Religion Must End, a friend expressed his condolences.  I replied that actually I enjoy reading John's books: for one thing, he possesses an uncanny instinct for setting the volleyball up over the net, just where his own side is most vulnerable.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Answering Nicholas Kristof's Questions on Faith

I've always liked Nicholas Kristof, though not reading the New York Times, I seldom see his essays.  I find something sincere and earnest about his work.  Traveling around the world on assignments, he seems to view people with real compassion.  I probably disagree with his politics, but he is one liberal whom I really respect -- what one would hope for from someone who calls himself a "liberal."  (Though I don't know if Kristof uses that word.)  

This morning someone posted a series of questions which Kristof posed to the New York City pastor Tim Keller.  (I won't give the poster's name, since this was on a closed forum.)  He asked us to try to answer Kristof's questions without looking at Keller's replies.   While I wasn't planning to write a blog piece this morning, the questions proved interesting, and on important issues that I've pondered a lot.  Here's what I came up with.  

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Nigel Barber and Philip Perry Prove Mythicism

Image result for blind leading blind
Skeptical New Testament scholarship in a nut-shell. 
Tis the season to pop bubbles.  Some people tell six year olds, "There is no Santa Claus."  (All right.  I plead guilty.)  Others tell 60 year old bishops  (say, N. T. Wright):

"Terribly sorry, old man.  But a growing number of historians and bloggers has determined that YOUR chap -- the fellow you learned all those languages and historical methodologies to study, whom you actually do worship, the 'reason for the season' and all that -- have determined that your man never even lived.  A cipher, a null, a hole in the wall, mytheo-poetry, and all that rot.  Go get a job as a department store Santa, and don't waste another minute studying fairy-tales!"

"A growing number of historian and bloggers."  Yes, that is now an actual phrase, invented by one Philip Perry on a site called Big Think, to debunk the historical reality of Jesus.   (And borrowing heavily both from the historian Richard Carrier, and the blogger and psychologist Nigel Barber.)  This phrase "historians and bloggers" was hatched, and took flight in the Year of Our Lord (as they used to call it) 2016, the year in which it became obligatory that major party candidates strike "10s" on the Richter scale of Telling Fibs.  (In which a seven is ten times the liar as a six.)

Perry's article went viral, with more than ten thousand shares.

I, for one, am now convinced.  I have converted.  All those thousands of Christmas-time Facebook shares prove there is something to Barber and Perry's critiques.

I must now officially come out of the closet, and declare myself a mythicist.  

Oh, I don't mean in regard to Jesus.  I'm not about to repudiate my new book, Jesus is No Myth: The Fingerprints of God, which offers overwhelming evidence not merely for the historicity of Jesus (even the Jesus Seminar figured that one out), but that the gospels tell the essential truth about who he was and what he said and did.  (And which continues to get great reviews from historians and philosophers -- I am less concerned about bloggers.)

But it is a myth, apparently, that Big Think means "smart think," or "informed think," or anything other than the most puerile and witless prattling about important topics of which the author is extravagantly ignorant.

It also seems to be a myth that all psychologists strive as Socrates was told to "know thyself."  Because if Nigel Barbor knew himself, he would know better than to "open his mouth and remove all doubt," as they say, with this epitome of rank ignorance, showing that he has little concept of history, the gospels, or the limits of his own expertise.

It is also appears to be a myth that atheists, at least those that populate the Internet care about evidence and are committed to following the truth wherever it leads, as they often tell one another.

And in view of page shares for these two on-line articles, I am wondering if it might also be a myth that there is even intelligent life on this planet.

Nick Peters has already debunked Perry's article pretty thoroughly.  And this is all shooting fish in a barrel anyway.  But it's Christmas time.  If the fish insist on jumping into the eggnog, getting "tanked" as they say and ruining the flavor for everyone else, they must suffer the consequences.  And thanks to that rude habit, cleaning out the eggnog barrel has also become an annual Yuletide tradition.  Might as well enjoy the chore.

We'll do this in four parts: each article in turn, followed by double-barreled de-mythicizing.

I. "Jesus Never Existed at All!"  Nigel Barber, "biopsychologist," blogger, The Huffington Post, May 5, 2016.  

In an earlier post, I argued that the historicity of Jesus was doubtful. Some religion scholars questioned one of my sources. Now, recent scholarship comes as close as possible to settling the issue (a).
Personally, I have no ax to grind so far as the historical existence of Jesus is concerned.  If anything, I would prefer to believe that the life of Jesus, painstakingly learned in childhood (b), was connected to history rather than a fiction.
Unfortunately, much of what one reads on this question is biased whether by religion scholars, and religious believers, who promote the historical Jesus, or atheist writers intent on debunking him. (c) 
Richard Carrier’s 600-page, note-filled tome, On the Historicity of Jesus belongs in the second camp but it poses a challenge that academic proponents of the historical Jesus seem unlikely to overcome. (d)
Jesus as a No-Show in History 
There are many technical issues that historians must grapple with in determining whether some personage is historical, or fictitious. One is whether the Biblical gospels can be regarded as historical sources. 
In general, historians discount written sources that were committed to paper more than a century after the events they describe. (e) Moreover, they prefer the authorship to be clearly established and for the writer to have a direct connection to what is recorded.
The Biblical gospels do not cut it as history in these terms. (f +g + h) Only St. Paul is thought to qualify in chronological terms. Yet, Paul had almost nothing to say about Jesus as a man and seems to have conceptualized him as a rarefied celestial being. (i)
For these reasons, most of the weight falls on Roman scholars and historians  (j) . . . 
If Jesus cannot be convincingly documented as a historical figure, then where do the New Testament narratives come from? Carrier offers a very detailed working out of the theory that instead of being a historical person, Jesus was a mythical hero analogous to Jason, Hercules, or Oedipus. (k)
Mythical Jesus
The hero-type of a divine king was described by scholars Otto Rank and Lord Raglan who established 22 distinctive features that range from virgin birth to death atop a hill and disappearance of the body.
Jesus has 20 of the 22 features (according to the Gospel of Matthew, 14 according to the Gospel of Mark) (l), compared to 22 for Oedipus, 19 for Dionysus, 17 for Hercules, and 14 for Jason . . .

II.  Some Problems -- if lack of wings is a problem for badgers who wish to circle the earth at 30,000 feet. 

(a) Gee, I wonder what brilliant polymath at Oxford or Harvard has "finally settled" the question of Jesus which has troubled so many of the world's greatest geniuses for so many centuries?   And have those geniuses conceded?

Oh, Richard Carrier.   Knock me over with a feather.

No word of concession from top-rank historians, yet, though.

(b) The key word fragment here, I suspect, may be "pain."

(c) A grossly false dichotomy.  It is not "religious believers and scholars" who promote the existence of Jesus, it is historians of all views, by the thousand.

Everyone is biased.  But almost no Jesus scholar, whether evangelical, Catholic, liberal Christian, agnostic, atheist, or Muslim, thinks it his or her job to either prove that Jesus existed or did not exist, anymore than the existence of the moon is something cosmologists lose sleep over.  (Correct me if you are a cosmologist and you stay up nights worrying whether the moon is really there, or are an historian and can't figure out whether the most famous, influential, and unique person who ever lived, actually did live.)

(d) "Academic proponents" of the historical Jesus will never "overcome" Carrier's challenge, only because they will not read it.  Having read it myself, the best I can say is that as sophists go, Richard is more inventive and clever than most.  But his argument is not merely a house of cards, it is a house of floating mountains like those on Pandora, held up by nothing more than imagination, which could not exist in the face of real-world logic, facts, or sound historical methodology.  If he doubts that, let Barber have a crack at my Amazon review (or lengthier rebuttal in Jesus is No Myth): 572 comments on the former so far, some quite vitriolic, yet not one of my many criticisms has been seriously challenged, I don't believe.  (Carrier himself, though he blew up over my previous posts in that forum, played this one cool and did not respond, so far as I know, though he did respond at length to an Amazon reviewer who deferred to me for expertise.)

(e) Now we come to the howlers, which show that Barber is to the practice of history roughly what badgers (the kind that live under rocks) are to the development of aviation:

"In general, historians discount written sources that were committed to paper more than a century after the events they describe."

In fact, historians generally agree that Arrian's The Campaigns of Alexandria are the best source we have for the life of Alexandria.  Indeed, the first sentence on the back cover of the Penguin Classics version of that book (amply seconded and justified within) reads 

"Although written over four hundred years after Alexander's death, Arrian's Campaigns of Alexander is the most reliable account of the man and his achievements we have."

And of course, to this day one can write good biographies of people who lived long before Christ, if one chooses to do so.  

What Barber no doubt meant to say (before he fell into the egg nog barrel) is that historians discount works which are based purely on oral tradition after a century.  I don't know what his source for that generalization would be (they didn't teach me this rule when I studied history), and it appears that some oral sources accurately preserve content for centuries or even perhaps an entire millennia.    

But all this is academic -- in a sense that does not conflict with "complete amateur rubbish" -- because it has nothing whatsoever to do with the gospels . . . 

(f) For as everyone except Nigel Barber knows, the overwhelming scholarly consensus is that all the gospels were written in the First Century.  Probably the first gospel is Mark, probably written before Jesus' young followers would even have passed middle age.  Since most of the events in the gospels occurred about 30 AD, in fact the gospels had already started coming out much less than half a century after the events they record.  Many of Jesus' first followers would have been alive and kicking when Mark wrote his gospel.  

(g) Richard Bauckham, a scholar several rungs up the totem pole from Richard Carrier, argues in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses that in fact, the authors of the gospels DID have "some connection to" the earliest witnesses, indeed very close connections.  Barber has apparently never heard of Bauckham, or of the many eminent scholars who endorse his book, and thinks Carrier (whom in my experience top-flight scholars tend not to have heard of) on the radical fringe of a fringe, a far more credible source.   

(h) "The biblical gospels do not cut it as history in these terms."  

Barber has, to this point, mentioned three criteria by which to evaluate the gospels.  In Jesus is No Myth, I describe 30 separate criteria which render the gospels historically credible.  Barber has considered only one of those (chronology), and gotten that one comically wrong.  

In other words, Barber has not considered the historical case for Matthew, Mark, Luke or John at all, yet.  He has not even noticed the grounds for that case.  

(i) "Paul had almost nothing to say about Jesus as a man and seems to have conceptualized him as a rarefied celestial being."
Barber is again borrowing his (gross mis) understanding of Paul from Richard Carrier.  Carrier bends and twists to obscure a few clear references in Paul to the historical Jesus.  

(j)  "For these reasons, most of the weight falls on Roman scholars and historians." 

Again, Barber simply ignores dozens of internal characteristics that support the historicity of the gospels, as well as external evidence.  He does not so much as mention the 84 historical facts which Colin Hemer shows that Luke hits out of the park in the last 16 chapters of Acts, or how (as Bauckham demonstrates) the gospels get Palestinian names dead on, just to mention a couple bodies of evidence of which our moonlighting shrink seems as ignorant as a skinny-dipping frog is of fine apparel.  

The weight of evidence for the gospels emphatically does NOT fall on "Roman scholars and historians."  This is why I barely mention Josephus or Tacitus in Jesus is No Myth.  But since Barber has not even noticed any of the real evidences for the historicity of the gospels, his opinion counts for nothing. 

Here I delete several paragraphs from Barber's argument, in which he uncritically repeats Carrier's attacks on famous passages in Josephus and Tacitus.  Who cares?  While most mainstream historians disagree with Carrier on those passages, I find the issue too trivial to bother with.  The evidence within the gospels themselves is more than sufficient not just to demonstrate Jesus' historicity, but the general truth of what they say about him.  

Again, I believe I demonstrate this point clearly in Jesus is No Myth: The Fingerprints of God on the Gospels.  

But the point to stress here is that while Barber credulously accepts Richard Carrier's arguments, though he has little credibility among historians generally, and no academic position, Barber seems never to have so much as heard of Richard Bauckham, Craig Keener or N. T. Wright, still less dealt with the overwhelming evidence they (and I) offer.  

It is like writing an on-line screed attacking modern notions of cosmology by quoting some free-lance crank, and ignoring Einstein, Carroll, Davies, Gamow, Guth, Hawking, Penrose, and all that lot.   

(k) "Jesus was a mythical hero analogous to Jason, Hercules, or Oedipus."  

Anyone who has read Jason and the Argonauts should, at this point, simply laugh out loud.  After you're done laughing, try analyzing Jason according to my set of 30 criteria which support the historicity of the gospels.  Jason passes practically none of them, and literally none of the most important criteria.  Nor, of course, do Hercules or Oedipus.  Such comments are  sign of rank desperation.  (Well, OK, let's be fair -- of rank ignorance.) 

(l) No, Jesus does not meet the Rank-Raglan criteria.  And Carrier should stop twisting facts (like substituting Matthew for Mark, turning from political to metaphorical kingship, and so on) to make it seem that he does.  Nor is it clear to most scholars what it would mean if he did, since the logic of Carrier's argument is shaky at best, and shamelessly anachronistic. 

While this first article didn't lay a glove on the gospels (the evidence for which Barber clearly has never encountered even in his dreams), it does support one mythicist position.  It appears that the self-congratulatory talk you hear among many glib atheists (no offense to those who are less foolhardy) about how much they care about evidence, love critical thought, and the like, truly is a myth.  After all, if Barber really wishes Jesus (whom he took such pains to learn about) really existed, as he claims, why does he only read so fringe a scholar as Richard Carrier, and blindly accept his arguments, without bothering to read rebuttals?  (Mine had been prominently posted on Amazon for almost two years before Barber wrote his piece, and had gained a lot of attention there.)  Why doesn't Barber read established scholars like Wright, Keener, Bauckham, Blomberg, or even the old Jesus Seminar (with all their manifold faults), and consider the evidence they offer?  

How is it that Barber doesn't even know that the gospels were all written much less than a century after Jesus' death - as basic a fact as one can find in this field, which would take three minutes of "research" on Wikipedia to uncover?  

And why was Barber's manifestly silly and ignorant piece "liked" by some 3900 readers, and shared some 560 times?  

That may, indeed, be good evidence for the mythicist position -- the view that intelligent life on this planet, at least in the Internet Era, has sadly become a myth.  

But it gets worse, because two days ago, one of Barber's enthusiastic readers wrote his own, even more amateurish and laughable, summary of the "evidence against Jesus."  And that piece has gotten 11,500 shares so far!

Philip Perry describes himself as a "full-time writer and blogger."  I can feel the pain.  But as the Prophet Amos might have put it: 

"Let the silliness roll down like a river . . . "  

III. "A Growing Number of Scholars are Questioning the Historical Existence of Jesus," Philip Perry, Big Think, December 20, 2016. 

"Christmas is a time of year where people are supposed to put aside their differences and come together to celebrate in peace, love, and understanding.  Though few question the traditions of the season, many of them predate Christianity in Europe. A lot was borrowed from the Norse tradition of Yule—the celebration of the winter solstice. Others originate with the Roman festival of Saturnalia. Ancient pagans brought pine branches into their houses, lit up the night with bonfires and candles, gave gifts, and burned the yule log.  
"Even Santa Claus comes from a variety of sources. Of course one of them is St. Nicolaus of Turkey. But earlier renditions look far more like the iconography associated with Odin or the Anglo-Saxon god, Woden.  Ancient proselytizers when converting the continent found it was much easier if people could keep their traditions, and merely put a Christian stamp on them.(a)  And that’s how these were incorporated into the season. Some even question whether or not Jesus was born on December 25(b) . . . 
"Today more and more, historians and bloggers alike are questioning whether the actual man called Jesus existed. (c)  Unfortunately, many of the writings we do have are tainted, the authors being religious scholars or atheists with an axe to grind. (d) One important point is the lack of historical sources. In the bible, whole chunks of his life are missing. Jesus goes from age 12 to 30, without any word of what happened in-between (e).  
"Historians have measures in terms of a burden of proof. If an author for instance is writing about a subject more than 100 years after it occurred, it isn’t considered valid. Another important metric is the validity of authorship. If the author cannot be clearly established, it makes the record far less reliable. (f) . . . 
(Cut:  various boring confusions, some repeated from Barber's article)  
"St. Paul is the only one to write about events chronologically.(g)  (cut, more echoes from Carrier and Barber about Josephus and Tacitus.)  
"Today, several books approach the subject, including Zealot by Reza Aslan, NailedTen Christian Myths That Show Jesus Never Existed at All by David Fitzgerald, and How Jesus Became God by Bart Ehrman.(h)  Historian Richard Carrier in his 600 page monograph: On the Historicity of Jesus, writes . . . According to Carrier, Jesus may be as much a mythical figure as Hercules or Oedipus . . . 
"The Rank-Raglan Mythotype is a set of traits that heroes across cultures share. There are 22 of them including a virgin birth, the audience knowing little to nothing about his childhood, being the son of god, dying on a hilltop, and the mysterious disappearance of his remains. Jesus meets 20 of the traits total. In fact, no one else meets the hero archetype quite as well.
"One biblical scholar holds an even more radical idea, that Jesus story was an early form of psychological warfare to help quell a violent insurgency . . . 
"Of course, there may very well have been a Rabbi Yeshua ben Yosef (as would have been Jesus’s real name) who gathered a flock around his teachings in the first century. Most antiquarians believe a real man existed and became mythicized.  But the historical record itself is thin." (i)
I will subject readers to less of this second piece, not merely from Christmas charity.  Also, as I said, Nick Peters rebutted Perry's article already.  And many of Perry's points were covered in the first part of this article, or elsewhere on this site or in Jesus is No Myth.  But several promontories of particular puerility must be repressed promptly.  
(a)  "Ancient proselytizers when converting the continent found it was much easier if people could keep their traditions, and merely put a Christian stamp on them."
This is a simplistic and unfair gloss on the relationship between Christianity and pre-Christian traditions.  See my How Jesus Passes the Outsider Test: The Inside Story for a richer account (Jaroslav Pelikan and Joseph Fletcher are also worth reading). 
(b) Does any Christian over eleven think that Jesus was actually born on December 25th?  
(c) Here you have it, the world's first use of the term "historians and bloggers alike."
What more such phrases might you hope to see in 2017?  
"Physicists and my mad Aunt Mabel think black holes emit radiation."  
"The elephant and the oxpecker that sat on the elephant together stomped the banyan tree into matchwood."  
But of course historians don't actually think Jesus was a myth.  Some bloggers do, obviously.  So "more and more historians and bloggers alike are questioning whether Jesus actually lived" actually sounds more like this: 
"Rock badgers and F16s love to do dogfights at Mach 4."  
"Physicists and Mad Aunt Mabel think rocks have feelings."  
(d) "Unfortunately, many of the writings we do have are tainted, the authors being religious scholars or atheists with an axe to grind."
This is a really weird sentence. "The writings" in the independent clause would seem to refer to the gospels.  But then the link in the dependent clause, for "atheists with an axe to grind," is to Barber's article.  It LOOKS grammatically as if "authors" refers to "the writings."  I can't make heads or tails of it, since that would mean that Nigel Barber wrote a gospel.  But apparently to make a living by writing in the Internet Era, writing comes second to "big thoughts," and what matters with the thoughts themselves is volume, not clarity.    
(e) "In the bible, whole chunks of his life are missing.  Jesus goes from 12 to 30, without any word of what happened in-between."
Strangely enough, while these two sentences do not at least give one cognitive whiplash, Perry seems to think they carry a point.  What could that point be?  That adolescence is the most interesting period in a person's life?  That unlike other ancient biographers, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John should have taken Diary of Anne Frank as their standard?  
(f) Perry passively accepts Barber's creative claim that historians have a "one hundred year rule" for sound reports, and passes it on to his many readers.  He doesn't stop to ask, "What does this shrink know about history, anyway?"  
Sorry, this, too, is a myth.  Wise diners do not really have a "three-second rule" for food scraps dropped on the table.  If the table is clean, the food will not be tainted by it.  But if you drop your dumplings onto a dead rat for just half a second, take my advice and order new dumplings!

Neither do historians have a "100 hundred year rule" for books.  Many excellent historical sources -- in China, the most famous and important early sources, which as I show in Jesus is No Myth have sometimes been corroborated-- appear hundreds of years later than that.  Nor were the gospels written a hundred years after the facts.  How can even the Internet spawn such ignorance about the founding documents of their own civilization? 
(g) "St. Paul is the only one to write about events chronologically."  Huh?  Has this man ever even read the New Testament?  
It would, of course, be far closer to the truth to say, "St. Paul is the only one NOT to write about events chronologically."  (Though in fact, the New Testament also includes letters from other early Christian leaders, and Paul occasionally does slip into chronological narrative.)  Does Perry and his crowd of followers really not know that the chief chronological books of the New Testament are Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Acts, and in a different sense Revelation -- not one of them penned by Paul?  
How stupid a comment does a skeptic have to offer for other skeptics to realize they're being had?  Does their gullibility go right to the core of the Earth?  This man makes Donald Trump's late-night tweets look profound and careful.  
(h) "Today, several books approach the subject, including Zealot by Reza Aslan, NailedTen Christian Myths That Show Jesus Never Existed at All by David Fitzgerald, and How Jesus Became God by Bart Ehrman." 
Another truly bizarre comment.  Practically the only thing that Aslan, Carrier and Ehrman have in common is that I refute all three ("ACE") in Jesus is No Myth.  Of the three, only Carrier is a mythicist.  Aslan is a liberal Muslim, Ehrman seems to be an agnostic, and is also the only eminent scholar in the group.  (And he's frankly not a very good one, as I and others have shown.)  
Maybe another thing these three men, along with Fitzgerald, share in common, is that Perry has read all four.  (Plus Barber, but not apparently the New Testament!)  If so, he's not choosing well, but I applaud him for reading more than one book and one on-line article, as feared.  Let me suggest that someone get him a copy of the Holy Bible for Christmas.  Let him read the gospels and Paul to start.
 (i)  "Most antiquarians believe a real man existed and became mythicized.  But the historical record itself is thin."
What is thin is evidence that modern skeptics are still capable of reading old books and accurately recognizing their most obvious traits.  Things had not reached such a pass even when C. S. Lewis noted: 
"These men ask me to believe they can read between the lines of the old texts; the evidence is their obvious inability to read (in any sense worth discussing) the lines themselves. They claim to see fern-seed and can’t see an elephant ten yards way in broad daylight.”
The scholars Lewis was complaining about did, at least, know which parts of the New Testament were chronological, and probably also knew that the gospels had been written within a hundred years of Jesus' life. 

Richard Carrier obtained a PhD in history from Columbia University.  Carrier is smart, creative, and well read.   His followers, who mostly lack those positive qualities, copy instead his quack ideas and cocky attitude.  And then those followers (the nearly unreadable Lataster is another) somehow become opinion leaders themselves, and the most patent nonsense goes viral at Christmas.  

It is times like these that I should perhaps thank God for my own relative lack of fame.  

The blind are still leading the blind, as Jesus put it.  But now the legions of the blind have elected as their leaders those who are also deaf and, especially, dumb.  The blind masses then pour like a flood into the chasm of historical nihilism, letting out a yelp like the primal scream of a primitive tribes at a war ritual as they slip over the lip and into the void.   It is not a pretty sight or sound.   

But at least now I, too, can jump into the tide and say "I, too, am a mythicist!"  

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Penn Students like THIS better than Shakespeare?

"Too white.  We shall have to discard
this visage."
The University of Pennsylvania is said to be one of our great universities.  It was founded by none other than Benjamin Franklin, one of the greatest Americans (or so the Reigning Establishment long opined, despite his sins of being white and unambiguously male.)

Anyway, it seems the wise Penn pedagogues tired of looking at the face of William Shakespeare. Way white.   Way old.  Way male.  They decided to replace his visage.  But they waited too long, and the oppressed students in the English department determined to pre-empt the faculty and purify the premises.  So they took Bill down, and replaced him with a properly politically-correct poet, a good lesbian, black and therefore holy in skin color, a "warrior" named Audre Lorde.

Mao's little babes.  Let America have its Great Cultural Revolution, and rid ourselves of the Four Olds: old race, old gender, old money, good poems.

And you called William Shakespeare "irreplaceable?"

Just look at this brilliant work!

 Hanging Fire

Related Poem Content Details

I am fourteen 
and my skin has betrayed me   
the boy I cannot live without   
still sucks his thumb 
in secret 
how come my knees are 
always so ashy 
what if I die 
before morning 
and momma's in the bedroom   
with the door closed . . . 

Nobody even stops to think   
about my side of it 
I should have been on Math Team   
my marks were better than his   
why do I have to be 
the one 
wearing braces 
I have nothing to wear tomorrow   
will I live long enough 
to grow up 
and momma's in the bedroom   
with the door closed.

Now that is real poetry!  It may not rhyme, true.   But how mysterious!  What is momma DOING in the bedroom with the door closed?  (Sex?  How subtle!  How universal!)  

One can almost picture this girl - how brilliantly Ms. Lorde has captured her essence, the perfect caricature of a 14-year old's heart!  The universal adolescent, with hardly a trace of individuality -- braces, check, acne, check, unrequited love, check, jealousy over being overlooked, check, misogyny (the whole point), check, questions about sex, check, worries about clothes, check.  Every single cliche one expects from an adult trying to remember or visualize the teenage female condition!  Why, this is almost as brilliant as paint-with-numbers!
  Compare such verbal wizardry to the tawdry doggerel of "The Bard," trying feebly to imagine "what dreams may come" to a desperate young man considering a rash act of revenge against his uncle: 

To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? 
Image result for red guards cultural revolution
The Red Guards purify culture.

If only Shakespeare had added something about braces, or Hamlet had wondered what his uncle was up to when he closed the door!  Think how much more universal and suggestive that play would have been!  And why doesn't this young man talk about sex, sports, or cars?  If only Shakespeare had created more fetching and realistic portraits of young people, the eager pups at Benjamin Franklin's old school would not be ashamed to stare at his nose every day.  (Especially if he'd put black face on in shame for his wicked whiteness, and executed a quickie sex change operation.)  

There's one good thing about our Glorious Cultural Revolution.  It helps me sympathize with the lost generation in China.  And it also takes the edge off my nationalistic and class vanities.  It turns out that not a few bright young Americans, and their highly-credentialed teachers, have learned to Love Big Sister, and made themselves look every bit as daft as China's Red Guards, abandoning the wealth and beauty of a great civilization, selling their heritage for a mess of cold porridge, sprinkled with brown sugar and lots of nuts.    

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Bart Ehrman and the "Alt Jesus"

Here's my new article in The Stream: 'Was the Story of Jesus Borrowed from Pagan Myth?"   If you like it, please share it!  This little missile may help sink Bart Erhman's battleship, and the search for an "Alt Jesus," if people have a chance to read it.  (Adopted, of course, from Jesus is No Myth: The Fingerprints of God on the Gospels.  Still time to order a copy by Christmas!)  

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Christian apologists should always tell the truth!

Image result for francis bacon
Francis Bacon did not kill
hundreds of millions of
people, or offer too many
unclean sacrifices, except
when he was kissing up to
Christians defending the faith should never tell lies. But sometimes we do. And some of them are nasty, and counter-productive. Here, for instance, is a post I met yesterday:
"Atheists who make nonsensical, ahistorical and misological (sic) claims such as this one, prove they've never truly examined their own community's behavior under the microscope as they enjoy doing with us. Consider instead those who have died in the name of atheistic philosophies such as marxism, socialism, communism, maoism, Nazism, fascism, totalitarianism, libertarianism, monopolistic capitalism, robber barronism, industrialization, secularism, jingoism, anarchism, social darwinism, eugenics, malthusianism, messianic scientism, nihilism, anti-humanist terrorism, individualism, narcissism, physicalism, materialism, consumerism, modernism, postmodernism, nietzscheism, Marquis de Sade's sadism, (i.e., sadistic murders) moral relativism, hedonism, radical feminism, (i.e., abortions, infanticide, suicide, false claims of rape) radical environmentalism, (i.e., ecological terrorism) Anton LaVey's satanism, (i.e., ritual murders) and the "Law of Attraction." (i.e., the deaths, including suicides, caused by Peter Popoff, Sylvia Browne and other gurus") All of these atheistic philosophies have resulted in the deaths of countless hundreds of millions of human beings. In comparison, the deaths caused by religion seem almost quaint and insignificant."
Here all of these ideologies are described twice as "atheistic philosophies." I called both sides out for lying. I was troubled by how some Christians, no less than some atheists, twisted facts to support the claim (which, of course, is where it went) that Nazism was an "atheist philosophy." SOME Nazis were atheists. (Of course.) German Christianity worshiped Race or Blood. (Of course.) There were "ties" between Nazism and atheism. (Sure -- two of the three philosophers who most influenced Hitler were atheists. But that doesn't make Nazism atheistic, anymore than G. K. Chesterton's influence on me makes me Catholic.)
Neither is "socialism" inherently atheistic.  Marxism-Leninism was only one form of socialism: many forms were quite open to believers, or even founded by believers. 
While Musolino wrote a book arguing against God, there was nothing in The Manifesto of the Italian Fasci of Combat against religion.  
"Totalitarian" is a political system in which the state maintains control of all spheres, including religion.  Some such states have been atheistic, others have promoted other ideologies.  
Thomas Malthus, the founder of "Malthusianism," was a devout Anglican minister, among other things.  
Anti-humanist terrorism?  I'm not sure what that means, because "humanist" is often taken to refer to secular humanism, which really tends to be atheistic.  
The world is full of jingoists who are also theists.  I am sometimes one.  
Individualism AND communism are "atheistic philosophies?"  Maybe the author of this treacle is thinking of Ayn Rand's Objectivism?  
"Materialism" can mean (a) the doctrine that the material universe is real: (b) that it is the only reality; or (c) that making money and spending it is the only fun.  Presumably the writer means (b).  In that case, this is almost just a synonym for "atheism."  But of course most Christians believe (a), and some act like they believed (c).  
Of course it is nonsense to suppose all "robber barons" or induistrialists were atheists.  
And then we are told that "all of these atheistic philosophies" have "resulted in the deaths of countless hundreds of millions of human beings." 
All of them?  You mean, each of them?  Or all of them combined? 
Obviously, if ONE of them has caused the deaths of "hundreds of millions of human beings," then "all of them combined" have.  In which case, the claim means nothing.  It would be like saying, "David, George, Patti, and Arjun all speak Hindi," meaning Arjun does.  Which is just another way of lying, or of throwing claims out with careless regard for truth, which is the same thing.

Probably none of them has in fact resulted in "countless hundreds of millions of deaths," unless you can't count to one.  That's appalling, of course, but one draws attention off the horror of the Gulag by making false claims which skeptics will naturally focus on.  
Let atheists and Hindus and Muslims hold a monopoly on sophism and specious arguments. We follow the Author of Truth, to whom (as Francis Bacon put it) we should not offer the "unclean sacrifice of a lie."
Besides which, there is strategy in argumentation. Lesser is more. Purge your argument of doubtful claims, or admit the degree of doubt and attenuation, and you make it stronger, not weaker. The argument won't focus on fringe questions. You won't come across as unfair. Your good arguments will shine all the most strongly.

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Monday, November 28, 2016

Yes, Randal Rauser, Christians Should Fear Islam

But first, we should fear misunderstanding one another.  So let us begin by trying to figure out what we are talking about when we use the word "Islam."

Intro: Define Religions to Avoid Confusion 

Atheists and believers often talk past one another because they hold different notions of what the word "religion" means.  Some people (often skeptics) assume what sociologist Peter Berger called a "substantive" definition of the word ("Religion is a belief in supernatural beings"), while others (often believers) prefer a "functional" definition ("Religion is a person's 'ultimate concern.'").   Either sort of definition is defensible.  But I suspect Secular Humanists prefer substantive definitions because that lets their own beliefs off the hook.  Even though Secular Humanism and Marxism often look, sound, smell, and act like "religions," by invoking "saints" and "holy books" and oppressing competitors, by defining themselves as not having any "religion," humanists can pretend to stand above "religion" and critique other peoples' beliefs objectively, as for instance John Loftus pretends to do with his Outsider Test for Faith, even if they fight like wolves to protect their own views.

Liberals and conservatives have a different way of talking past one another.  And that has to do with how we define, not religion in general, but particular religions, including Islam.  Since Randal Rauser is a "liberal" (I hope he doesn't mind the term), and I am a conservative (that's how I see myself), it helps to consider the different ways that these two schools define particular religions before we wade into the question, "Should we fear Islam?"
People often define specific religions in three ways: (1) by the personality and teachings of a faith's founder (s); (2) by the written or oral canon produced by early believers; and / or (3) by broad tradition as it has developed in the centuries or millennia since that religion first burst on the scene.   
Conservatives tend to define religions by the first two, founders and texts.  Thus, a conservative might say that a Christian is a follower of Jesus, or someone who reads and obeys the Holy Bible, which tells the way to salvation.  A Muslim is one who is inspired by the life, teachings, and example of the Prophet Mohammed, or by reading (or hearing) of the Holy Quran (along perhaps with the earliest and most reliable hadith).  
Liberals, by contrast, focus (if one can use that word for their more scattered approach) on evolving tradition.  Liberals have been known to describe the United States Constitution as a "living document," which we interpret from our growing life experiences.  In the same way, given time, imagination, and the selective pressures of different cultural environments, Christianity, Buddhism or Islam may evolve in all kinds of directions .  Buddhism became militaristic among the Samarai class in Japan, turned to occult orgies ("consort practice") among the Tibetan elite, became a school of nature art, a New Age fad for American filmmakers, or returned to its quietest roots in hundreds of caves and temples scattered around Asia.  I have sometimes wondered if Nazism would have ultimately have developed a pacifist wing, had it survived.
When defining a religion, which of these definitions should we focus on?  Again, any can be defended.  Language is plastic, and in a sense, words really can mean anything you like -- so long as you make yourself clear.   
But to be clear, you must do two things.  (1) First, make sure your definition is the same as that of the person you're talking with.  If you say, "Buddhism is a great religion," a conservative may hear, "Buddha was a great teacher and what he said, as preserved in the earliest sutras, is largely true," while a liberal may hear you say, "Buddhist traditions as they spread from India to Central Asia and the Far East contributed richly to the tapestry of Far Eastern literature, art, science, and cuisine."  Then the liberal and the conservative often get into a loud argument without realizing that they're talking about two completely different things. 
But which definition should one choose?  Maybe that depends, in part, not just upon one's personal preference, but also on the nature of a particular faith.  So one must also ask, (2) "Does the kind of definition I like fit this particular religion?"  Some faiths are more fixed in nature, like an animal with a shell or skeleton, while others are squishier and more elastic, like a jelly-fish.  Religions with a high view of revealed scripture may evolve to fit new environmental conditions (which is what liberals expect and even hope for), yet also retain a stronger core set of beliefs, which change much less than those of religions that lack a fixed canon (written or oral), or in which you can pick and choose from thousands of "sacred" scriptures a la carte.  
Keep those two points in mind, as you read a piece my friend Randal Rauser posted on November 21st, "Should Christians Be Afraid of Islam?"  He thinks "no."  I think "yes."  I think the problem with Rauser's answer in large part derives from a problematic definition of "Islam," which leans liberal, but ultimately equivocates between liberal and conservative definitions.  In Part II, I'll analyze specific points marked and lettered in Part I, attempting to clarify some of the usual confusion.  Then I will attempt to answer Rauser's question as a whole in Part III. 

I. Rauser's Argument: "No, We Need Not Fear Islam"

In my review for God’s not Dead 2 I pointed out that the religion currently under greatest threat in the United States is not Christianity.  (a) Rather, it is Islam.
That claim received a response from readers both in the discussion thread and via email who argued that Islam is a threat. When the concern was initially raised by Walter I replied as follows:
Islam, like any religion, is subject to multiple interpretations of the relationship between the religious community and the state. (b) The kind of Islam you describe as a concern has its Christian equivalent in contemporary Christian dominionism as well as in many historic forms of Christendom.”
Another reader, VicqRuiz, countered my response as follows:
“If the segment of Islam which believes in a theocratic state under shari’a was as small relative to all of Islam as the dominionist movement is relative to all of Christianity, I would agree that Islam is something which we have no need to beware.”
I then offered this reply:
It is true that the relative size and strength of the theocratic wing of Islam is currently greater than the theocratic wing of ChristianityBut it simply doesn’t follow that fear of the theocratic wing of Islam should thereby transfer to fear of Islam simpliciter. (c) That’s a non sequitur.”
But VicqRuiz was undaunted as he then replied:
“What argues against your response, Randal, is the dearth of majority Islamic countries in which the theocratic wing of Islam is not firmly entrenched in power.”
In fact, that doesn’t argue against my response. On the contrary, it is another non sequitur. So here is my explanation of why folks shouldn’t be afraid of Islam or believe that Islam per se represents an essential threat to western society.
Muslim majority countries today very much parallel pre-Enlightenment Christian majority countries in the West. (d) I am using the term “Enlightenment” here to refer to a set of cultural, scientific, philosophical, political, and economic forces in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries which gave rise to the hallmarks of western capitalist, democratic, and religiously tolerant pluralist society. (e) 
Let’s begin with this observation: in key respects religious life in England in 1610 was much closer to religious life in contemporary Saudi Arabia than contemporary England. For example, if you lived in England in 1610 you could be jailed for being a non-conformist (i.e. for refusing to conform to the Church of England’s form of worship). And if you failed to attend church for an extended period, you could be called before the civil magistrate where you could be fined, imprisoned or worse. (Just consider what happened to Thomas Helwys who had the temerity to write King James I at this time to request religious toleration for his fellow Baptists.)
But over the next two centuries, western Christendom began to break down as a result of many forces including the continued fracturing of religious consensus and the growth of religious, political and economic conflict (e.g. Thirty Years War); the continued growth of the significance of the secular sphere in natural science (e.g. Galileo, Newton, Darwin) and economics (e.g. Adam Smith), the rise of philosophical skepticism (e.g. Hume, Kant), the democratizing force of politics (the French and American revolutions) and popular revivalist religion (in Britain and North America especially). (f) 
All these forces amounted to an extended assault of cannon fire on the edifice of western Christendom. But Christianity didn’t die as a result. Indeed, many commentators would argue that it was freed from the constraints of Christendom as it adapted to the new reality of pluralism, free market capitalism, democracy, science, and the ongoing forces of secularization. (g) 
Most Muslim-majority countries have not yet grappled directly with these same forces of Enlightenment. Consequently, many of the values now taken for granted in the West like religious tolerance, free markets, and democracy are not embraced in large parts of the Muslim-majority world. And in the countries where the influence of the West is most present (e.g. Turkey, Iran, Egypt) one can also see the most visible conflicts.
So here’s the lesson to draw: it is simply wrong to think that this current clash of civilizations is a clash with Islam simpliciter just like it is wrong to think that the earlier clash with Christendom was a clash with Christianity simpliciter. (h) Consequently, instead of encouraging non-Muslims to fear Islam we should be encouraging Muslims to engage with the same forces (pluralism, capitalism, democracy, etc.) that wrought change in Christendom. (i) 
And one more thing. One should not assume that the Enlightenment forces which wrought these radical changes in Christendom were and are all secular. On the contrary, as several scholars have argued, many of these forces are in fact sourced ultimately within the Judeo-Christian tradition. (See for example, Nicholas Wolterstorff’s account of justice and human rights.) Likewise, the most effective reform of Islam will be that which engages not only in a dialogue with external factors, but also in a careful and creative ressourcement of the Muslim tradition itself. (j)

II. Initial Analysis

Now let us analyze the ten points (a-j) marked above, in light of our talk about definitions above, and see if any confusion has crept into Rauser's typically well-spoken analysis.  
(a)  "The religion currently under greatest threat in the United States is not Christianity."  What sort of "threat" is Rauser talking about?  In the review which he cites, Rauser appeals to alleged "persecution" of Muslims in America, but doesn't give any details.  His concerns seem more oriented towards possible future persecutions of some sort: 

To note some examples, this past week President-elect Donald Trump chose Michael Flynn as his National Security Advisor, even though Flynn has insisted that Americans should be afraid of Islam (not Islamic radicalism, but Islam itself) and further that Islam is really a political ideology rather than a religion. (This latter claim is particularly troubling as it sets the stage for challenging the religious freedom currently granted to Muslims.)

This whole paragraph is about definitions.  Is Islam a "political ideology," and not a "religion?"  Or at least a religion in which politics is more central than, say, Buddhism or Taoism?  Should we believe what Flynn or Rauser tell us about the relationship between piety and politics in Islam?

One might wish Rauser had directly quoted Flynn here.  I have heard Flynn speak on the radio, and he did not strike me as particularly careful or profound in his use of his words.  But anyway, the "threat" which Rauser sniffs out here seems extremely faint -- it does not sound as if Flynn actually proposed taking away, or even "challenging" the freedom of Muslims.  Even if Islam were a political ideology and not a religion at all, isn't political expression also protected speak in the United States?  Furthermore, even if Flynn did think Islam was overly political, and that obnoxious ideologies should be suppressed (though that is not mentioned here), he does not have dictatorial powers, just the future president's ear on some matters.

So the dangers for Muslims in America that Rauser refers to here seem vague and implicit, even watered down over several generations, like chemicals in a homeopathic solution.

By contrast, non-Muslims in America face a more concrete danger: getting killed by Islamic terrorists.

Over the past 20 years, over three thousand Americans have been killed in America by terrorists, the vast majority by Muslim terrorists.

May there not be more to fear in the devil of terrorism that we know, and that has scorched thousands of American citizens already, than in whatever minor hobgoblins may emerge from the vapor of General Flynn's clumsily-constructed public utterances?   
(b) “Islam, like any religion, is subject to multiple interpretations of the relationship between the religious community and the state."  

"Multiple interpretations" is a bit of a scholarly cliche.  Human beings being endlessly complex creatures, almost every event in history is "subject to multiple interpretations," especially since we hardly even know what our own motives are, at times.

But consider this comment in light of my second warning above.  Yes, Islam evolves, as do all beliefs, and "liberals" can therefore rightly point to numerous differing manifestations of a faith that has been evolving for more than a millennium.  But it also seems that Islam generally maintains a far more stable core of beliefs than do, say, Buddhism or Hinduism.  Islam is constrained from too quick or radical change by the person, example, and canonical teachings of Mohammed, and by belief that God has authored the Koran word for word.  These beliefs seem to lend Islam far more stability than religions based in more amorphous sets of teachings.  
And in fact, Mohammed was leader of both the religious community and the Arab state, as were caliphs who followed in his footsteps for centuries after his time.  Mohammed issued political rulings, waged war, took in a fixed percentage of booty from raids on neighboring tribes as taxes, and punished personal enemies by wielding political power.  The union between politics and religion that he instituted is fixed in Islamic law as normative, since Mohammed is considered the ideal man.  Maybe some Muslims can ignore later Islamic rulings.  But the Koran is even more authoritative in Islam than the Bible in Christianity, and far bolder in what it says about use of political power.  Unlike Jesus, Mohammed was an authoritarian political leader.  So one may indeed find multiple interpretations of how religion and politics meet in Islam, but the most successful ones must come to grips with the example of Mohammed, the political leader and yes, highly successful tyrant and warrior.  
(c) “It is true that the relative size and strength of the theocratic wing of Islam is currently greater than the theocratic wing of Christianity.  But it simply doesn’t follow that fear of the theocratic wing of Islam should thereby transfer to fear of Islam simpliciter. 
Again we return to definitions.  What does Randal mean by "Islam simpliciter?"

If we define Islam by the example of Mohammed and the writings that tell of his life, one might argue that theocracy is not a "wing" of Islam but the whole bird, aside from a few loose tail feathers.

Can one even point to some "Islam simpliciter" that was not already theocratic?  I doubt that history reveals any such thing: I don't find it in the Koran, I don't find it in Maxine Rodinson, in Bernard Lewis, or even in John Esposito or Karen Armstrong.

The Gospels do not confront us with an analogous difficulty.  Jesus was neither a political leader, nor even politically demanding: "My kingdom is not of this world" disavows political ambition pretty clearly.  When Jesus' disciples left, he did not try to retain them, nor did he ever hold a weapon in his hands, or ask that any of his followers wield them against his critics.  
If we define Islam according to the example and teachings of Mohammed, as made normative in the Koran, then Islam is not a religion with a "theocratic wing," it is a theocratic religion with a democratic fringe.  We may hope that liberals within Islam will cause their religion to evolve away from its roots, but then that would be away from "Islam simpliciter."  And one might say that Rauser also fears that, which is why he hopes that Islam will, in fact, evolve, and why he fails to cite any ancient Islamic teachings or normative examples which modern Islam can appeal to to reform.

The problem is, if you don't define "Islam" by its founder or sacred text, you can't really talk about "Islam simpliciter" or "Islam per se," but only, "one late and marginal interpretation of Islam that I think would be socially useful."  That's fine, in liberal circles, or as a Hollywood version of Buddhism.  But Muslims are likely to feel that you are asking them to jump ship and become something entirely different.     
(d) Muslim majority countries today very much parallel pre-Enlightenment Christian majority countries in the West. 
I wonder.  Were there any "Pre-Enlightenment Christian majority countries in the West?"  Rodney Stark argues that the number of "Christians" passed the 50% mark in Rome during the 4th Century, but also that from that point on, sincere Christians again became a minority.  
Anyway, if as Rauser claims one can find similarities between "pre-Enlightenment" Europe and modern Islam, what would be the cause of those similarities?

Medieval "Christianity" had been altered from its original state by three outside influences: (a) Greco-Roman imperial faith; (b) Germanic faith; and (c) Islam itself, which conquered half of "Christendom" and inspired a reaction, including the concept of "holy war."  (Paul Tillich is good on this topic.)  So one reason Medieval Christianity resembled modern Islam to the extent that it did, may be that Christendom had been influenced by Islam.  After all, Islam had conquered half of Christendom.  When threatened by a stronger rival, religions often adopt what they perceive as that rival's strengths in order to compete.  Christianity thus moved away from its roots in the teachings and life of Jesus, first by adopting Roman power and customs, then German superstitions and love of war, and then the attitude towards slavery and "holy war" that its more powerful competitor to the south modeled.

If that is so, a Reformation or even Enlightenment in Europe may have led Christians away from Islam, back to the roots of the Gospel -- to the model Jesus provided.  But Mohammed provided a completely different model.  As early as the 7th Century, John of Damascus recognized as typical of Islam some of the traits we decry in Islam today.

The problem with Islam may be that it has already reformed, and that "Islamic reform" and the desire to return to "simply Islam" is what produced Saudi Arabia, modern Iran, and the Taliban.  If Mohammed was the ideal man, and the ideal man married a 9-year-old, shouldn't we lower the age at which girls can marry?  And if Mohammed enslaved enemies, and took his enemy's womenfolk into his own harem (permanently or temporarily) why shouldn't ISIS do the same?  
(e). I am using the term “Enlightenment” here to refer to a set of cultural, scientific, philosophical, political, and economic forces in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries which gave rise to the hallmarks of western capitalist, democratic, and religiously tolerant pluralist society.
But is the Enlightenment a purely benign force, as Rauser seems here to assume?  Having cast off Christianity, the French Revolution, Communism, and Nazism could also claim to be children of the Enlightenment in their own ways.  Rauser and I might agree that the difference between a helpful and a harmful interpretation of the Enlightenment may lie in whether a reformer embraced or disavowed the teachings and example of Jesus.  But then our goal would not be the "Enlightenment Simpliciter," but a brand of Christian thought which Rauser and I both affirm, and we would be asking Muslims not to "reform," but to become cultural Christians.  

Why not go the whole nine yards, then, and invite them to become actual Christians?  
(f)  Western Christendom began to break down as a result of many forces including the continued fracturing of religious consensus and the growth of religious, political and economic conflict (e.g. Thirty Years War); the continued growth of the significance of the secular sphere in natural science (e.g. Galileo, Newton, Darwin) and economics (e.g. Adam Smith), the rise of philosophical skepticism (e.g. Hume, Kant), the democratizing force of politics (the French and American revolutions) and popular revivalist religion (in Britain and North America especially).
What broke down was European unity.  Christian belief, Stark shows in "Secularization, RIP," had never been as strong in Europe as the term "Christendom" would seem to imply.  And the Christian church was never fully united: the Nestorians, the Byzantines, and other churches went their ways long before European Christianity shattered into pieces.  (To the extent that it was ever one.)  
As a disciple of Adam Smith, Stark sees that breakup as healthy, encouraging true piety which had been smothered by political and religious monopoly.  (Ma Bell: "We don't care.  We don't have to.")  The words "Christendom" and "breakup" may obscure these richer realities going on beneath the surface.  And pietist and revivalist religion impacted more than just Britain and North America: it brought about dramatic reforms in Germany and Scandinavia, and ultimately most of the world.  (Those parts of the world that did not shut Christian influence out, as Islam has often tried to do.)   
(g) Christianity didn’t die as a result. Indeed, many commentators would argue that it was freed from the constraints of Christendom as it adapted to the new reality of pluralism, free market capitalism, democracy, science, and the ongoing forces of secularization. 
While "pluralism" was new to the 15th Century, perhaps, it was not new to Christianity.  The Gospel was born into pluralism, and thrived peaceably under its challenge.   What is alien to the New Testament is the idea of enforcing belief and persecuting unbelievers.  That was the true adaptation, so modern Christians can be seen as returning to their own roots.  
But can the same be said of Islam?  I don't think that it can. 
(h) It is simply wrong to think that this current clash of civilizations is a clash with Islam simpliciter just like it is wrong to think that the earlier clash with Christendom was a clash with Christianity simpliciter.
The parallel Rauser argues for here only works if Christianity and Islam, in their primary (1 and 2) definitions, relate church or mosque to state in a similar fashion.  But observe the lives of Jesus and Mohammed, or read the Scriptures they produced, and this assumption becomes difficult to sustain.  "Simple" Christianity began with Jesus rebuking his disciples for wanting to blast towns that did not listen to their message.  It began with Jesus protecting women from being stoned for adultery.  "Simple" Islam, by contrast, began with Mohammed imposing his beliefs with the sword, raiding caravans, launching attacks, cutting off limbs, seizing enemy goods, and selling women and children into slavery. 
Hinduism and Buddhism reformed in response to the challenge of the Gospel, because they were "squishy" religions (see JN Farquhar's Modern Religious Movements in India.)  Islam did not reform nearly so much, because "simple Islam" defines itself far more rigidly.  
(i)  Instead of encouraging non-Muslims to fear Islam we should be encouraging Muslims to engage with the same forces (pluralism, capitalism, democracy, etc.) that wrought change in Christendom. 
But I think what reformed Christianity, and prepared it to carry reformation to the world, was largely the character, example, and teachings of Jesus.  The Gospel was born into a plural world, and gave Christians -- when they paid attention, which they often did not do -- an example of how to peacefully persuade, rather than force, our neighbors, which we can find all through the Gospels and in Acts. Muslims may choose to ignore Mohammed's own tyrannical example and try to turn their societies towards democracy.  But Jesus' emphasis on the weaker members of society, on carrying for the poor, the sick, women, children, and the elderly, on servant leadership, on taking off his disciples dirty sandals and washing them as if he were a slave or a woman of the house, on forgiveness, working with one's hands (not pillaging neighbors), all set civic society on a firm foundation which I do not think can be found in the life of Mohammed.  

(j)  Likewise, the most effective reform of Islam will be that which engages not only in a dialogue with external factors, but also in a careful and creative ressourcement of the Muslim tradition itself.
Here Rauser is clearly relying upon a liberal understanding of religion, emphasizing the wide variety of resources that no doubt can be found in every tradition.  He is not asking that Islam express its core nature, as expressed in the life of Mohammed or in some systematic and fair approach to reading the Koran for its core or simplest method.  Rather, he's looking at it from the outside with a critical eye and a pair of pruning sheers, asking what twigs needs to be lopped off, and which allowed to grow -- hoping that some native part of the plant will prove wholesome and fruitful after the operation is complete.

The problem, we have seen, is that how Mohammed acted, what he taught, the example he set, are not what Rauser recognizes we should be aiming for.  What we do not want modern Muslims to do, is marry lots of wives, as Mohammed did, beginning when they are nine years old.  Nor do we want Muslim men to kill the husbands of infidels, then rape their ladies as the bodies of their menfolk still cool, as Mohammed did in one case.  Nor would Rauser urge future Muslims to assassinate people who criticize them, or who leave the faith. As a kindly scholar, Rauser frowns on starting wars with peaceful neighbors, as Mohammed did time and time again.  I am pretty sure Rauser also stands solidly against all forms of torture.   
So "simple" Islam must be defined in terms of the European "Enlightenment," minus its more ruthless and radical manifestations.
Which makes me wonder, given all that pruning with barely a glimpse of the pure archaic stump from which must proceed the future life of Islam, does Randal Rauser believe his own answer to his fundamental question?  That question, to which we now return, is: 

III. Should We Fear Islam? 

Now let us define another word.  What does "fear" mean?

After all, doesn't the Apostle John say "perfect love casts out fear?"  If Muslims are our neighbors, or even our enemies, doesn't the Bible teach us to love both neighbors and enemies?  In either case, if we love Muslims as the New Testament instructs, should we not then cast aside fear of them?

But fear can also mean at least two things:(a) a physiological reaction to danger which serves the purpose of motivating animals (including humans) to protect themselves by removing themselves from the danger, or the danger from themselves; (b) a chronic state of debilitating unease that arises from a lack of trust in God and confidence about the future.

Let me suggest that John does not mean that love anesthetizes us so we fail to react properly to physical danger.  He does not want us walking off cliffs, or crashing into guard rails.  He wants us to trust in a God of love Who will then liberate us from unreasonable and debilitating fears.

In that second sense, no, we should not "fear" Islam, or car accidents, bears, thin ice on a frozen lake, or anything else.  But in the first sense, well, John is not telling us to be fools.  It is right, and inevitable, that we should "fear" dangerous objects, and not jump off of tall buildings, as Satan tempted Jesus to do.

And clearly, the example and teachings of Mohammed, as preserved in the Holy Koran, "Islam simpliciter" is a dangerous thing, and ought to be feared as a healthy person fears measles or a broken leg.

So what does that mean?

"Should I invite a Muslim over for Christmas?"  Of course!  Don't be afraid to befriend your Muslim neighbors.

"Should I travel in a Muslim country?"  Some countries, and some parts of some countries, are in fact dangerous, sometimes more so if you are a woman.

"If am a security official at an airport, should I be especially careful of radical young Muslim men traveling from Iraq or Syria."  I should hope so!

"Setting immigration policies, should Canada or America wish for more immigrants who espouse sharia as the highest for of law?"   I don't see why.

"Was Andrea Merkel wise to allow 800,000 mostly male Muslim foreigners to immigrate to Germany?"  That is certainly debatable, and a prudent fear for the future of Germany ought to be assumed in that debate -- without fear of ridicule or shaming.

"Would it be wise, if you are a young woman, to attend the next New Year's celebration in Cologne?"  No, thanks to Merkel's policies, it would not.

No doubt the world would be better off if Islam took Rauser's advice, and reformed itself into something far distant from the example Mohammed set.  But I am not sure that such a reformed object would still count as Islam -- not just because I am conservative, but because Islam itself is conservative that way.  Bernard Lewis notes that Islam experienced many reforms, but none of them ever challenged the subservient status of women, slaves, or dimmis (Christians and Jews, especially).  
So my solution to this conundrum is to follow Jesus' command, and call Muslims, like other people, to put their trust in a God of love, clearly manifest in the life and teachings of Jesus.  After all, the people who followed that command, "The Great Commission," have probably already been more responsible for spreading the fruits of freedom and open society around the world than anyone else.  And some five to twenty million Muslims have converted to Christ over the past few decades.  Why quit when the game is starting to break your way?  Not that I think Randal is advocating that.

But I wouldn't advise anyone to follow the teachings or example of Mohammed.