Friday, May 18, 2018

Richard Carrier and Germs

Sometimes it takes me a while, but reading the Mark passage about washing hands this morning on the roof of my apartment, it suddenly occurred to me how I should have answered Richard Carrier's challenge (and on-line argument) on this subject, several years ago when we debated in Huntsville, Alabama. 
Maybe this will help other apologists next time you meet it!  Or maybe not!
Carrier's argument, which had often occurred to me, is that Jesus really shouldn't have told his disciples not to wash his hands before eating!  Exactly the wrong example to set in an ancient world full of virus and bacteria, in which people died like flies (and via flies) from communicable diseases.  Never mind the ceremonial aspects of washing hands: how many millions of lives would have been saved if Jesus had said instead: "Use soap and warm water before every meal and after every potty break!"  Didn't God know about germs?
Carrier also uses this argument in Why I am Not a Christian, Carrier's worst book, if not quite (against stiff competition) one of the worst books on religion ever written (see my Amazon review.)  But I actually feel the force of this argument, though one can brush it aside in various ways.
Here's what I should have said . . . maybe.
"Yes, I wish Jesus had taken the opportunity to emphasize the need for good hygiene, however peripheral to his point.  But I see no historical evidence that any community followed this passage in that half-literalistic half out-of-context way which would actually lead to sloppy hygiene and mass communicable deaths.  If you have such evidence, please point it out, using all 17-odd steps of critical exegesis you require when one is employing the "Criteria of Embarrassment."  (Which if rigorously followed, would ensure that no one could ever possibly know what Jesus really had in mind, even if we have his words in hand!)
"But while that one passage cannot reasonably be interpreted as a general ban on washing hands, the whole weight of Scripture is against promiscuous sex.  (Here add "of the sort you have been publicly practicing and promoting for the past many years" as context and conscience allow.)
"How many millions of lives have been saved from death of syphilis, AIDS, etc, and how many tens of millions of lives not been broken or disfigured, by people following Joseph's example and Paul's command and fleeing sexual temptation?  How much communicable disease has not been communicated?
"And how many broken families, torn and bleeding hearts, unwanted pregnancies, abortions, homeless children, not to mention disease and even death, have been brought into the world by people following your example instead?   And how many abortions and broken hearts and maybe even physical sicknesses has your life of sin brought about?"
I don't know if I would have survived the debate, if I'd said such a thing on stage at a university.  But next time, maybe I will. 

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