Monday, December 1, 2014

Book Review: Dale Allison's "The Historical Christ & the Theological Jesus"

Dale Allison is a weird guy.  Nearly flawless, lucid thinker, incredibly introspective guy, and great big, standard-setting name in secular historical Jesus studies...AND...also a Christian somehow.  Want to know how that is after reading his scholarly stuff you'd swear was written by a non-believer (I'm also currently reading his "Constructing Jesus" book and have read his "Jesus of Nazareth: Millenarian Prophet" book)?  Well, Allison's "The Historical Christ & the Theological Jesus," is the 119 page book for you.

Allison is full of helpful historical tidbits and analogies throughout his book.  It does help to be basically familiar with the scholarly terrain he covers in his other books.  This icing is sitting on that cake.  If you can't skip from peak to peak with him, this may not be the book for you.  I, however, was delighted.  It is an interesting thought experiment to try and split the difference between raw, generic Christian belief and extremely sober, informed scholarly thinking. generally not be really screwy about it.  But, he is kind of screwy about it on some points.  We'll get to that.

Spoiler alert:  It's all a metaphor.

Perhaps Dale can *metaphorically* go to heaven after he dies.

In his preface Allison basically says he didn't think much about how his historical potatoes touched his theological peas until teaching a particular class on Jesus studies with lots of students who were all like, "Bro, but theology man!"  Then he was like, "Oh, right...that."  

Allison moves on to set the stage of the problem in his first chapter "The Problem of Theological Utility," Mission Impossible style.  He does this well and without apology.  Snip out a hopeful sentence or two and it's basically a case closed on New Testament theology.  Allison rampages through the biases of other Jesus scholars and kicks up all the appropriate dust on how we basically will never know what exactly Jesus said versus what the Bible says he said.  General trends of early New Testament evidence probably count as a "gist" of Jesus, or otherwise we just don't know Jesus.  Do we even know Jesus?  Well, I guess we probably do or something.  Allison says no scholar is keen enough to sort the wheat of genuine Jesus from the chaff of mythological bs in the mix.  This is staple Dale Allison.

In chapter 2, "Disputed Questions," Allison starts making his way from describing the carcass of the debate to prescribing a palatable theological interpretation.  About on page 39 we start getting to the standard liberal post-modernist bs of "any interpretation is good."  By page 41 Allison seems to have let the categories of "history" and "truth" drift apart.  We get our first near howler on page 42, where Allison asks the rhetorical question, "If only the sayings that Jesus really spoke impinge on us, does this not imply that John's Gospel, whose discourses are so widely thought to be mostly post-Easter meditations, must lose its canonical status?"  Um...why not?  And why not toss out all the fake books, dude, for starters, at the very least?  Quality control goes where?  Allison basically lays out the case that everything unravels if we "go there."  Yeah...and why shouldn't it?  There's only a foggy remnant of "real Jesus" hidden somewhere in the NT and you can't tell the real from the fake.  A normal person would say, "Game over."  But perhaps we can look "deeper," well beyond reality, and into a world I'd like to call..religion.  

I had to laugh out loud when Allison noted that we keep the textual insertions in, say, the gospel of John, on the woman caught in adultery, but "surely" we'd toss it out if it weren't so edifying?  Oh really?  So who in Christianity land is finally going to get rid of the dubious dancing-with-poisonous-snakes ending of Mark and the blatantly misogynistic verses inserted into Paul?  Are those edifying keepsakes as well?  Or is Christian tradition more like a woo hording, face-saving, pack rat?  If we get rid of anything, we're going to ride the huge dubious pile of garbage all way the down to the bottom of pure unbelief.  I think it's more like we're held hostage by the woo:  Nobody touches nothing till the end of time...

Allison has to know better than this.  It is reasonable to suspect believers like him and Barack Obama are faking it for various reasons, but on the other hand I imagine there really are "10 bold-calorie Christians" out there.  Why not these two?  And others.  So whatever.

Then there's this howler on page 44: "For theologians or preachers effectively to ignore those portions of the Gospels that some contemporary historians deem unhistorical is to change the rules of the game.  It is too late for that."  Too late for what?  To not be a Christian?  To see Christianity as a failed worldview?  What the hell, dude?  There's some unchecked presupposition hiding in there that we gots to be Christian no matter what.  And we're gonna do it even if reality relentlessly says, "F*ck no!"  We say, "F*ck yes," back!

By page 46 Allison has started apologizing for there being so many contradictory Jesus reconstructions, because you know, lots of real famous people are understood differently, too.  [/eyeroll]  He can't possibly mean this at the proverbial 11 like a fundamentalist apologist would mean it to excuse away endless blatant contradictions between the gospels and shore up everything as inerrant, but normally we might pick the most likely biography of some famous person and not try to accept every Spider-man of the Spider-verse as Spider-man.  Or perhaps a Clayface analogy works better.

On page 48-49 Allison recounts the vision of a friend of his of Jesus appearing and forgiving her of all her sins.  Liberal Jesus makes house calls, too?  Sweet!  He also appeals to the "mountain of evidence" for "perfectly normal people" having hallucinations.  He says he's not so quick to judge, and that's nice, but why in the world would you base your worldview on such uncertainties?  I can say, "Yeah, sure, who knows?" but I'm not going to become a Christian.  Anymore than I'm going to await being beamed up to the mother ship just because someone tells a compelling alien abduction tale.  This stuff is only sexy if you want to want to be irresponsible with your beliefs.  Reasonable people recognize it as jerking off.

Chapter 3 "How to Proceed"

It is helpful to have Allison summarize his gist conclusions about the historical Jesus (that basically go no further than secular gist).

From pages 62-63 Allison lists a number of bits on Jesus and concludes, "I infer from this collection of materials that Jesus made uncommonly difficult demands on at least some people," and that it is at least reasonable to suppose this may have been motivated by "eschatological expectation."  You don't say?  So Jesus wasn't just consistently exaggerating?  And it is reasonable to see his consistently  unsustainable extremism in light of his false belief the end was nigh?  Good...

From his "where there is lots of smoke, we may infer some fire" (not a quote of his) method Allison assures us that this leads to a "large number of conclusions."  Allison continues, "Jesus must have been an exorcist who interpreted his ministry in terms of Satan's downfall.  He must have thought highly of John the Baptist.  He must have repeatedly spoken of God as Father.  He must have composed parables.  He must have come into conflict with religious authorities."  And on page 65, "Jesus probably believed himself to be not just an eschatological prophet but the personal locus of the end-time scenario, the central figure of the last judgement..."

lol, all those years of Jesus studies and basic reading comprehension of trends in the early data is all they got?  Impressive.

Some exceptions apply: "Miracles are of course a problem for any who want to find much memory in the Gospels."  "Do we not know that tradition always exaggerates and that a tendency to mythomania seems to be part of human nature?"  On page 69, "It is no mystery why Reimarus, Strauss, and Bultmann regarded the miracle stories of the Gospels as pious fictions.  They were just being reasonable --and treating the Gospels the same way that the rest of us treat the fantastic fables of the Greek gods."

So should a reasonable skeptic suppose that, "...the miracle-ridden nature of our sources defeats [Allison's] method, which posits that we can be confident of finding Jesus above all in the repeating patterns."  Surely, " is an instance where a repeating pattern must be the product not of reliable memory but of early Christian fancy."  " was the habit of the early Christians to score theological points by inventing fantastic, picturesque stories."

One might pause and wonder.  But Allison basically gives us an ultimatum.  It's either the gist of Jesus as found between the earliest sources or we got nothing.  And of course we have something, right?  Or do we?  [BTW, here's what Allison has to say on the "we got nothing" idea:]

Allison quotes at length The Acts of Peter and Andrew on the one hand to show an example of obvious myth-making and the examples of reports of Seraphim of Sarov and Sri Sathya Sai Baba that seem to be eye witness accounts of the miraculous, with albeit palatable secular explanations.  Allison wants to show that some of the miraculous accounts *could* still retain legitimate "memory" of a real Jesus.  Which is a fair enough point to keep in mind.  But then on page 77 Allison suggests this might carry for the Jesus miraculously feeding of the thousands.  Seems like a stretch to me.  If Allison is fine with saying that the Satan/Jesus temptation bit is obvious myth, then there's an obvious precedent.  Jesus walking on water.  Flying up to heaven.  Etc.

Allison gets pretty explicit on page 78 with his own compartmentalization between history and theology.  He's definitely making theological baby Jesus cry.  But we can't verify that historical baby Jesus isn't crying. 

Chapter 4 "Some Difficult Conclusions" 

Page 79, "When the historians are done, much is left undone, and the theologians are just getting started."  A reasonable person would read a sentence like that as, "When the road runner stops at the end of a cliff, Wile E. Coyote is just getting started..."

Much of this is interesting reading for various reasons, but I'm going to skip along to what interests me most.

On page 87 Allison points out that granting a historical Jesus too high of a Christology makes him seem egocentric and mentally ill.  Sorry, C. S. Lewis.  Why can't a guy tell people to do morally extreme things, completely blow off sustainable living, and promise to come back with an army of angels to terrify and eternally torture most of the human race without getting accused of being a psycho?

And at last we come to Allison's brand of theological self abuse, compliments of a Jesus that still manages to reach through the fog of being almost completely theologically neutered: "What good is Jesus if he does not trouble our theological dreams?"  *sigh*  Reminds me of liberal Christian scholar Thom Stark's bit in his epic response to Paul Copan with "Is God a Moral Compromiser?"  Stark wrote in the preface, "We have to struggle if we want to find God. And we have to learn to identify and resist any and all attempts to lull us into docility. Jacob did not defend God; Jacob wrestled against God. And he came out wounded, not whole. And that is what it means to be Israel."  Any chance, while these folks are so busy championing intellectual honesty and basic human decency despite the best efforts of their religion, that they can stop advocating self abuse?  Thanks.

Chapter 5 "Some Personal Impressions" 

Again, I'm skipping lots of things to focus on what I'd like.

On page 110, Allison claims Jesus never constructed a theodicy or tried to apologize for the evil of the world in light of his all good, all powerful, all knowing god.  However this is not true.  Jesus' eschatology is a theodicy.  In Jesus' parable of the weeds in Matthew 13:24-30 Jesus explains how a farmer "wisely" ignores the weeds growing in his crops until the harvest.  Evil is okay for now because it'll be taken care of later.  But by page 111 Allison is trying to spin this as though Jesus' eschatology isn't just an obviously bad explanation of evil.  This is apologetic sleight of hand and hardly worthy of Allison who wants us to believe that not even trying to explain evil is somehow a virtue.  Check out this apologetic double speak, "For although eschatology is not the solution to the problem of evil, without eschatology there can be no solution."  Sorry.  Jesus tried.  Skeptics wept.  Jesus thinks procrastination is a virtue and judging people is much more fun when they do a whole lot of flagrant evil to each other that a god doesn't try to prevent.  Let's not kid ourselves.

I think I'll end there.


I imagine Dale Allison saw most of a review like this coming.  He's probably heard it all before and always gives that impression even when he's not making the counter argument to himself.  I have no idea why anything resembling "creedal Christianity" sticks in this guy's head.  He knows Jesus is a false prophet.  He knows Genesis and Revelation are both fake.  He knows all the layers of theology on top of a basic historical Jesus are bs.  He knows the difference between wishful thinking and having the evidence on your side (or rather prudently taking the side with the evidence on it).  Why would we want to lift meaning out of evil theological stories?  And what rudimentary human sensibilities (like love and hope) can't be more efficiently extracted out of endless other material available to a modern person?  I get plenty out of comic book mythology and modern mythology of all sorts with modern values inlaid into it.  But less cultural woo, so screw that, right?


Saturday, October 4, 2014

Bill Maher vs. Reza Aslan: Two important competing perspectives on respecting religious identity.


The hot topic right now is Bill Maher, Reza Aslan, Sam Harris, and Ben Affleck on Islam, but I will also be making use of Christianity as an analogy because it is useful.

Watch firebrand atheist Bill Maher's rant against liberals who are too tolerant of evils of Islam:

Watch liberal Muslim Reza Aslan get interviewed on CNN in response:

I believe there are two important competing perspectives on respecting religious identity at work here and I'm not sure that either of them is wrong.  I think each possibly speaks to different sets of important values and that there may not be any easy way for any one person to hit all those values together.

A religious sensitive perspective (Reza Aslan):

If a person self-identifies as a Muslim or Christian they get full credit on being counted fully Muslim or fully Christian and it is not our place to judge who really is or isn't a true Muslim or Christian.  Since there are 1.6 billion Muslims and 2.3 billion Christians there really is hardly anything we can say in broad stroke about them as the only thread between them is how they self-identify.  Hence making any such comments makes you a bigot.  Further, religion only inspires people to do good and never inspires them to do bad.  Economics, politics, and other issues are the cause of "Muslim" terrorism for example and never the Islam, because other groups are also terrorists.  The exploits of terrorism and prejudice against women and homosexuals (for example) are all bad, but Islam (for example) is never to blame.

A religious negative perspective (Bill Maher):

There are many grossly inhumane elements to major religious ideas regardless of how they play out in culture and unfortunately a wide range of people personally identify with these religions anyway.  They do this regardless of how serious they are actually taking the source texts and the most probable priorities of their founders.  However, the more check boxes you can check off that more align with the source texts such as the Koran and the Hadith, the more you are going to be naturally considered more representative of Islam.  Same with Christians and the New Testament.  Secular humanists are under no obligation to take seriously the intellectually convoluted claims of moderates and nominally religious people that their version Islam is at all plausible.  It is justified to have an educated opinion on what more or less counts as more or less Muslim as we are people too in this world and these religions are trying to sell themselves to *us* personally. Self-identified Muslims, especially, cannot plausibly shut the door to understanding what a real Muslim is while simultaneously keeping the "evangelical" one open.  It is therefore not an intellectually hands-off issue and such an idea taken to its logical conclusion cuts *every* human off from having any idea what a true Muslim or Christian is *including all those self-identified Muslims and Christians.*  Oops.  Making comments about the Muslim world (clearly framed as generalities, not absolutes, based on actual polls representative of that actual extent of actual Muslims) that significantly weight the Muslims who are actually more or most Muslim constitutes meaningful criticism of the religion at play.  Majority Muslim countries that have significantly modern values at play represent the influence of the modern world *over and above* Islam.  Good for them!  In addition to politics, economics, and other contributing factors, ideas *also* matter as they inspire hope and/or hate and so religion is a significant component in the mix of what makes people who they are and what they are willing to do in the world that impacts others.  Religion above other elements tends to overly thwart the *corrective process* because bad human ideas have been given an untouchable divine seal of approval.  Attacking religion directly (via intellectual criticism) is therefore a necessary process any moral and intellectually honest culture must engage in to at least some reasonable extent.    


The two perspectives are inherently at odds with each other and I would argue are two different ways to wrestle with the incoherence of religious moderates who want 100% credit for being fully Muslim, but then can't give anywhere near a straight answer on how their modern secular views plausibly connect with their source texts anywhere near as often and effortlessly as the radicals do.  And the moderates can't have much of a voice in the culture against the extremists of their religion because the instant they speak up they are too easily knocked down merely for not really plausibly representing the evils of their religious source material.  "Jesus loves gays and is cool with gay marriage."  "Oh really?  No he isn't."  Let me know when that conversation is going to go another way.

"Why won't my self-deception work on other people!?!"

The question comes down to *how* do you respect people (assuming you do)?  Do you respect them through the eyes of their own values first or through the eyes of yours?  I don't care for it anymore than the next person when a Protestant Christian has a prefabricated script that paints me as a rebellious sinner who knows their god exists and that I'm just living in denial of that to indulge in sin.  Of course they impose this narrative regardless of my actual attributes or motives and need no other evidence than I exist and identify as not-their-religion.  But that's the problem.  They judge me at the *expense* of reality, but I can hardly fault them for looking at me from their own actual perspective (anymore than I can fault them for expecting to live their actual values in the world of politics).

Truth is the trump card here.  

I don't know about you, but I've worked long and hard on my values and other people are not entitled to define my thinking about them for me.  I am not subject to your errors about yourself as though your own opinions about yourself are divine and untouchable (whether we are talking about religion or something else).  Your views of yourself are not sacred to me even if they are relevant to my understanding of you.  I may agree with you and I may not agree with you.  I may be wrong in my appraisal just as you may be wrong about yourself.  That's how the process of humaning goes.  It is often said, "Don't judge," but how in the world is that even mentally possible?  Even if such things are not voiced we are unavoidably making value judgements about people all the time and can't be expected to stop.  There are often things that cannot be judged because of known ignorance and of course some budget for the unknown unknowns category, but one cannot *willfully* "not judge."  And if you think you can suspend that at any time, my judgement of that is that you are engaging in self-deception and your opinions remain beneath the interim fog of denialism.

Some observations about the recent pop cultural debate:

Watch CNN talk about the Reza Aslan interview and one correspondent say one shitty thing:

It blew up that the CNN correspondent said Resa Aslan's anger is what makes people anxious about Islam.  That was a stupid thing for that CNN guy to say.  It wasn't characteristic of the merits of the rest of his comments though.  You could drop that quote and I think I'd agree with almost everything else.  Aslan was just getting irritated by the ignorance of the CNN interviewers on some points of fact that he was very familiar with.  I don't think jihad was lurking behind that adorable Iranian face of his.  Pouncing on Aslan for being irritated by something in the conversation is like blaming someone for saying "ouch" when you poke them.  I don't see Aslan's irritation as at all representative of what any reasonable person should be afraid of from the world of the genuinely threatening Islam.  There's nothing at all threatening about Aslan regardless of whether he has some issues wrong.

I think Aslan-supporting critics want to use that quote to malign everything else the CNN guy said without actually addressing it.  And it may even be true that the CNN correspondent does harbor some biases...  News flash: we all do.  So just dismiss everything everyone ever says about anything.  Or you can deal with the merits of things.  Whichever.

I respect Aslan's influence as a corrective check on Islam-bashing going too far.  But he can only push that back so far before we uncover his own measure of obscurantism.  Religion is not a non-issue just because other issues are also issues.  If religion wants to take credit for its actual inherent good, it has to take credit for its actual inherent bad.  Religious moderates (especially in Intelligence Squared debates on Islam and Catholicism) often want us to judge their religious institutions by human standards while expecting us to be simultaneously impressed by them as divine.  I'm sorry, you're going to have to pick one.

And think of just how insulting it is to actual religious people to say their religion is a complete non-issue and means nothing about them?  Ironic, isn't it?  *Who* is taking religion more seriously?  In the world of Christianity, many if not most Christian sects (and I could be wrong about my sense of how many) don't want their religion at all identified with just any random person who self-identifies as a Christian.  And for good reason!  There are "Christian atheists" and everything in between.  Protestants often don't think Catholic Jesus is the real Jesus.  Religious people don't want the mile high anthropological or sociological view of their religion.  They want their religion to be defined by their religion.  And they are just as entitled to having a shot at making that case as I am.  Incidentally they may lose that intellectual battle.  I would hope they'd be a good sport about the possibility.

And they may still be insulted because you don't think they are a "true" Muslim or Christian.  But is that justified?  The point is, you respected them by giving them a good argument.  You granted them the dignity of telling them what you actually think rather than coddling them as though they are infants who can't handle the truth (or at least your take on it).  I don't think there *is* such a thing as a "true" Christian because the definition requires there be a real Holy Spirit in the mix and I don't think that exists.  So merely being able to check off the most boxes for Christianity in terms of aligning with the teachings of the New Testament doesn't mean anything.  Jesus' followers were also supposed to able to use their faith to do even greater miraculous things than he could (John 14:12-14) and I've never seen *anyone* like that.  Heal the sick and miraculously speak in foreign languages?  Nope.  Sorry, never seen anyone check off that critical box.  So no true Christians.  Jesus would seem to agree (Matthew 7:22-23, Luke 13:25-27).  I'm not intimately familiar with the Koran, but perhaps something similar applies to them.  Is it a bigoted view of so called religious people that I expect them to actually exemplify their own moral mythology in reality in order to give them credit?  Maybe you should address my argument rather than getting huffy, because I blame my reading comprehension.

The religious negative view does have the uncomfortable position of telling a moderate Muslim or Christian that they are not very representative of their faith.  It may seem disrespectful, but it is also the truth.  Welcome to the bad ideas, chopping board!  If you've grafted your identity to a bad idea, your feels might be collateral damage.  We can't let a healthy respect for personal identity politics get in the way of calling out the evils inherent in our major religious traditions.  If one is offended by getting facts about all self-identified Muslim populations wrong, then why are you not offended by Muslims getting their justifications for calling themselves Muslims wrong as though there is simply no wrong way to do that?  Sweeping everything under the rug of respect for identity politics blows a huge hole in a serious conversation about many important issues.  And the religious sensitive crowd has to do a whole bunch of implausible gerrymandering to make absolutely nothing about religion.  One would think that making nothing about religion is just as bad as making everything about religion.  

Watch Bill Maher and Sam Harris vs. Ben Affleck and others:

Ben Affleck's "It's gross and racist."  That comment is actually what spurned this post.  Whereas Aslan seems to have an intellectual understanding of the somewhat pseudo-corrective game he is playing, Affleck seems to come at it from a visceral level.  It seemed more honest even though confused.  And I wanted to explore that.

Why I found most hilarious about Affleck's other comments was how he would continually react to Harris or Maher saying things like, "90% of Muslims in country X believe Y," and then Affleck would immediately say, "You think all Muslims believe Y!?"  I think they were saying 90% of that country believe that.  Ninety is not one hundred last time I checked, Ben.  But Harris and Maher are definitely prejudiced and all people who self-identify as a particular religion get 90% credit.  I can say that, because 90 = 100 in Affleck land.

It's just factually false that Harris and Maher are ever speaking about "all Muslims" when they make their comments.  Accusing them of such is just stupid.  Especially when they spend a lot of time unpacking and calibrating everything they say to be as accurate as possible and at the end you still accuse them of talking about all Muslims.  

See Reza Aslan's tweet:

See also:

Female genital mutilation.  It may well be true that approaching the topic of FGM is best approached as just the issue of FGM and the incidental cultural beliefs about that topic from central Africa and a few other places around the world.  However, it may also be true that a close second relevant issue along the topic is the stabilizing element of Islam and third may be Christianity.  Divine sexism isn't helpful for subjugating women along these lines?  I'm going to go out on a limb and say it helps.  On the other hand there may be other dynamics in the mix that may more properly get at the heart of the issue and I don't pretend to have a handle on it.

Aslan wanted to use FGM as the single example that takes down Bill Maher's position.  Which is really unfair and also ironic as it represents an emotional prejudice about anti-religion advocates by way of one example to falsely generalize about them.  I think that's the definition of bigotry, Reza.  Granted, perhaps every example or most examples that Bill Maher may try to stick Islam with can be demonstrated by Aslan to be equally factually challenged.  Is that likely?  Or can we compare the claims of self-identified Muslims to their source texts and then criticize the values in theory and also in practice?  Will Islam, in that light, come out unscathed?  Doubtful.

I don't believe there is a zero sum game of who is bigoted here.  The B word is a highly emotionally loaded term that still has important meaning.  However, what is often lost on people is that we are all ignorant and biased along various social lines to whatever degree.  And ideally we'd be in the conversation to make ourselves less ignorant and less biased and more accurate all around in light of the contributions of each other.

See Jay Smooth elaborate on this point here:

So we can all be less bigoted.  I don't think Bill, Sam, Ben, or Reza are particularly prejudiced along any of these issues, but some of these kinks do need to be worked out.


I don't want to live in a world where Big Religion is not regularly taken to task for its inherent faults.  I want there to be Sam Harrises, Bill Mahers, and Ayaan Hirsi Alis.  It is absolutely unconscionable to think that no one should be able to speak an unflinching, critical message directly at the heart of Christianity and Islam.  Real people suffer under the tyranny of those teachings and paying lip service to the unending swaths of self-identified folks who don't believe or teach the majority of what their sources texts say just isn't relevant.  From my perspective it is morally perverse for the religious sensitive folks to want to silence those critical voices and pretend like the bad things that happen to people are all about economics, politics, and anything but religion.  

Incidentally, I also want there to be Reza Aslans and Glenn Greenwalds of the world to emphasize other issues in that same kind of conversation.  The mile high sociological perspective is important, too.  And many things impact our world apart from religion.  It would just be nice if there were more coherent intermingling between those emphasises as I do not believe necessarily one emphasis is more right or wrong than the other. Both speak to important values and there's not necessarily a seamless transition between them.  It is just a difficult value issue to decide given how convoluted the terrain of religious self-identification is and it is not surprising to see intelligent people come down one way or the other.

But when you are factually wrong on a given point, you are factually wrong.  If everyone could at the very least correct the easy facts of the matter, that would go a long way.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Round 3, Answering-Judaism on "Jesus worships Satan"


I sketched an argument a long time ago on a xanga blog far away concerning the likelihood (taking most of Christian mythology for granted) that Jesus worshipped Satan in the desert and forfeited everyone's salvation.  I argued that this would better explain why Jesus' prediction of the end of the world in his generation failed, it might explain his bizarre behavior throughout the gospels, and especially why the spread of a non-magical Christianity 2,000 years later is impressive from only a human standpoint.  Answering-Judaism (abbreviated AJ here) responded to that argument.  For round 2, I responded to his response and he responded to my response.  I am now going to respond to his latest response which begins round 3.

TL:DR:  AJ is in total "Bible tells me so" mode and supplements that with uncritical applications of traditional explanations for bizarre things found in scripture that might work to some other effect.  He doesn't tell us why we should trust every part of the Bible.  He doesn't tell us why the traditional explanations for the bizarre things found in scripture are more probable than alternative explanations which might support my "Jesus worshipped Satan" hypothesis.  He merely reminds us of a party line as though we didn't already know what it was and ignores carefully adding up each issue in terms of relative probability.  Having an explanation, whether it is more probable or not, is the same to him as winning the argument.  Nothing has changed between rounds 1 and 2 and I suspect that if there is a completion to round 3 that we'll still just get more "Bible says so" nonsense.

AJ says:
The problem with War On Error's conclusion about Jesus falling victim to Satan, is the very same context he quotes, Jesus not just once, but three times repudiates Satan and Satan goes away. [...] While I believe in Biblical inerrancy, The reason I made my point was a demand for consistency. If the same Bible is good enough to demonstrate your point that Jesus worshipped Satan, it is also good enough to refute your point as well. The very context which you quote from even shoots your thesis in the foot to begin with. [...] Still, his point about Satan being worshipped by Jesus, is refuted by the context of the passage where Jesus' temptation takes place.

In reality-land we don't always have to trust everything a source tells us.  We can and should be critical with virtually any source to whatever degree is warranted.  They may tell us some things that are important to them and leave out other important information that would matter to us.  They may twist some aspects of the story that make them uncomfortable.  They might forget how it really happened and haphazardly try to put it back together and do it wrong.  They might lie about some things, but tell the truth about other things for a variety of reasons.  They might embellish an account that they feel needs more kick to be as authoritative in the eyes of other believers as they already feel it is.  They might make lots of unjustified assumptions about their source materials and/or use bad methodologies for sorting through them.  They may be religious people who have visions they trust which tell them "how it really happened" even though the account they have makes no such claims.  They may have been suffering from dehydration and hunger for 40 days and 40 nights and been subject to memory loss, hallucination, general mental fatigue, and the super clever deceptions of an evil super being who had 4,000 years of experience manipulating even the strongest human minds.  Clearly, people have tons of reasons to misrecord history.  

I suspect AJ has all or at least many of those tools of discernment when they are applied to something else other than the Bible.   He might try exercising them here.

Please note that the gospels are separate books and they do not even claim to be inerrant individually.  Just because someone collected them and put them in another bigger book and then decided they were inerrant  because perhaps some other books make such claims doesn't prove anything.  Because we then have to ask ourselves why we should trust those claims?  AJ does not get into any of those defenses...perhaps because he cannot.  

If there was a real threat that Jesus could actually sin (hence making the story make sense), most of it could have gone just as recorded with some confusion at the end when Jesus would have been at his weakest (near the end of the 40 days of fasting).  AJ has not even tried to make a "we have four sources attesting to the same thing" claim.  But even if he did, this individual story would be exempt because only a delirious Jesus was there.  And his testimony about what went on in the desert would not qualify as very trustworthy given the conditions he had subjected himself to and the likely cognitive bias that of course he was going to win.  

AJ says:
Temptation itself is NOT a sin, it's dwelling ON the temptation and acting it out, Neither did Jesus actually do. The comparison to Superman to be honest is unwarranted and is not even a relevant comparison.
No...the comparison is to someone like me being tempted to fly around like Superman.  The schoolyard bullies could taunt me to fly all they wanted.  If it's impossible for me to do it, they're just being extremely irrational and it wouldn't make much sense to say I was actually being tempted to fly.  They'd be more likely to taunt me to stick my tongue to a cold pole because that's something I could actually do.  It would be extremely irrational for Satan to attempt to tempt Jesus if he knew he was the Christian god who could not even possibly sin.  Satan would then sound like a complete buffoon every time he opened his mouth in the story.  It would also be irrational for the story author to construct a story such as we have where the plot device of tempting the untemptable is taken for granted.  Hence, it makes more sense if the author(s) believed that Jesus could actually sin and was actually proving something.  Hence there's the logistical possibility in Christian mythology that Jesus could have sinned and messed salvation up for all of us.  That is...if we let the context speak for itself.  And then we add in the evidence I've been talking about.

It is important to note that my argument is not, "The Bible indicates Jesus worshipped Satan."  No, my argument encompasses more evidence than just the Bible.  Jesus being a failed prophet and there being an unmiraculous spread of the religion for the next 2,000 years heavily weighs on what might have actually happened in the gospels (if we are taking all the other supporting arguments for Christianity mythology for granted).  And then as a cherry on top, we find Jesus acting bizarrely in the gospels themselves as though he slowly loses his cool and gives up entirely on the cross (in our earliest gospels).

AJ says:
Satan was the one who did mess around with Job and God allowed it to happen to demonstrate his point that Job would remain faithful to him despite the hell that Satan would put him through.
Yahweh clearly gave in to Satan's "temptation" to molest Job.  Apologists should know better since someone acting on behalf of a ruler in that cultural context is considered synonymous with that ruler's will (and they use this to excuse contradictions between the gospels).  Satan taking over upon Yahweh's request is the same thing as Yahweh stretching out his hand against Job.  And morally speaking, when the mob sends a hitman to murder someone we morally blame the mob boss as well as the hitman.  Yahweh can't possibly be off the hook since he said yes, did not say no, and he did not stop the crime in progress.  What Yahweh had inflicted by proxy on Job was evil.  Believing that getting a replacement family in the end actually makes up for anything is also evil.  Gambling with Job's soul to begin with was evil.  Honestly these are the kinds of shenanigans we expect from the Greek and Roman pantheons that Christians will scoff at.

So yeah...even Yahweh can and did sin in the Old Testament.  But that's a different issue.  Satan got his way in the Job story, but ultimately lost that battle.  If anything, it proves that Satan can likely win some battles and perhaps even the war with Yahweh.  If he had no fighting chance, like mainstream Christianities would prefer, these stories make Satan's character make zero sense.  The theory that Satan at least could have actually won is therefore more probable.  The temptation of Jesus in the desert is an obvious candidate for that ultimate win.

AJ says:
I response to a question, Satan did know better, but he is rather careless in boldly challenging God the way he did in the first place.
When your theory entails extremely improbable behaviors and mine entails much more probable behaviors, that means I'm in the lead on this point.

AJ says:
The word used for Generation (genea) can be used of a race or people and their offspring and Jesus may have been referring to the Jews not passing away until all has been accomplished. Such a similiar point has been made here:
Mark 9:1, Matthew 10:23, 16:28, and Luke 9:27 say the same thing in a different way (as I already mentioned).  AJ is going to need more ad hoc excuses.  It's a good thing Christianity has had 2,000 years of cognitive dissonance to attempt to explain it all away.

AJ says:
There is nothing in the Bible about making it to North America and South America in the first century.
If the Great Commission in Matthew tells them to tell everyone, that requires them to tell everyone on the timetable given which is within the death of their generation.  Hence all the continents with people on them would be targets.  That necessarily includes North and South America.

AJ says:
It is not a failure on God's part nor a copout whatsoever on the part of Christians when the scripture which War On Error quoted from that there will be false Christians or people who call themselves Christians are not truly regenerate. God preserved a righteous remnant of Jews in the TANAKH or the Old Testament and no doubt he has done the same thing with Jewish and Gentile followers of Jesus. He has preserved remnants among Christendom who only do his will and follow him to the end.
I'm well aware of Yahweh's low standards for success that I've ridiculed in a previous post of mine:  The problem of course is an evil inversion of good expectations.  We're sold one thing.  We get another.  Whereas we get parables where a "good shepherd" is willing to go out of his way for 1 lost sheep out of 99, the actual reality of Christian mythology is that Jesus is willing to settle for pretty much just that one lost sheep.  Of course, we don't normally blame the sheep when a "good shepherd" comes home with 1% of his flock. And shepherds who blame the sheep rather than their own shepherding skills get fired.

AJ says:
Heresies and divisions need to happen in order to sift the true Christians from the false and prepare the true Christians for heaven. There is no failure on the part of God, he is still preserving a remnant to this day. 
Preserving a remnant?  You mean, "settling for less."  You don't suppose that if Yahweh left all of humanity up to their own devices, that merely by chance alone a "remnant" might be pleasing to him on Judgement Day?  These standards are synonymous with having virtually zero standards for Yahweh's goodness and providence.

What should Yahweh have been doing (you might ask)?

To quote myself elsewhere:
From our human perspective, at least, based on the kind of moral background knowledge that any parent has to trust, one would expect in a positive sense that proper divine management of moral and spiritual agents would entail that all humans would have a fair, fighting chance in this life for a mature salvation before Judgement Day.  And so it would require, at the very least, that everyone had a sufficiently long life, that we all had properly functioning brains (bred predisposed to maximal positive, healthy behaviors), that we were all encultured with the correct moral values and spiritual teachings from a very young age, that no one else’s free will would ever be allowed to infringe or significantly violate our autonomy, and that we’d be given all the support we would ever need throughout our lives so that in all likelihood (with an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent shepherding god at the helm) no one would be lost to damnation.
We're given the advice in Proverbs to "raise a child up in the way that he should go and he will not depart from it."  But then Yahweh turns around and doesn't bother to raise all humans up in the way that they should go.  

AJ says:
Regarding the growth of other religions, Jesus in his parables speaks of letting the wheat and tares growing together. God allows the bad people to exist for the sake of preserving the good, then he will judge all of mankind and dispose of the evil ones into hell. 
That's the official excuse alright.  It's just a really bad one.  It's like the cops saying, “We shouldn’t arrest anyone, because then good people would be hurt...”  Riiiight...that’s called negligence (surprise!) and Jesus is caught making really bad excuses for it.

AJ says:
Having high numbers in a religion is not the criteria of truth and I never use the highest population factor to determine Christianity being true.
There shouldn't even be religion.  There should just be the Christian god and everyone else involved in a healthy, respectable, straightforward relationship with him as I described in my quote from myself above.  But we don't have anything like that, do we?  Just what can hide under the radar of reality.

Of course, obviously the Christian god has been this negligent all along.  But if we accept the unlikely premise that it "made sense" for an all powerful god to focus on just one nation in the ancient world (which it doesn't), but then Christianity was for everyone, worldwide, and things were supposed to be different...then Christianity should have been for everyone.  Instead it's just a successful, endlessly fractured religion amongst other successful, fractured religions.  All the true believers should have had miraculous powers to heal the sick and instantly communicate in all the missionary languages.  But instead they have all the same non-miraculous powers every fake religion has.  Maybe the prophets had real powers back in the Old Testament.  But doesn't it at least call into question whether anything divine is going on today if science is doing better in the miracle department than any Christian denomination?

The answer of course is "No," because you're a Christian.  And like the vast majority of Christians and religious people everywhere, you've been conditioned to dumb down all your standards and expectations of the evidence on behalf of actually demonstrating the realities of your supernatural worldview.  This opens the Pandora's box of epistemology where someone like me can demonstrate contrary religious mythology is actually more probable.  Even if "Jesus worshipped Satan" is nearly as improbable as anything else Christians believe.

AJ says:
Satan didn't give Jesus ANYTHING, Jesus flat out refused what Satan had to offer. Jesus also warns the disciples about false miracles, as does the TANAKH in Deuteronomy 13. 
Mark 13:22, Matthew 24:24, and 2 Thessalonians 2:9 say something very similar to Deuteronomy.  Satan is powerful enough to produce all the counterfeit miracles Jesus would need to appear to complete his mission.  Jesus wouldn't even have to know it was Satan's doing.  So maybe we should treat Jesus with the same skepticism that Deuteronomy and other passages warn us about, lest we be deceived by a false messiah?  Like maybe when Jesus predicts the end of the world, and it doesn't happen, we don't try to wiggle out of it with unlikely definitions of words and ignoring the supporting verses.

AJ says:
If Satan inspired the stories to "be written as such since he would then be in charge of the Christian god's abandoned "holy scripture."'d just be fake stories" as War on Error puts it, Why is he using these "abandoned" documents as his means of trying to demonstrate that Jesus was a sinner who bowed the knee to Satan?
I didn't say he was.  The idea is that Satan's trying to keep the religion going for dubious purposes.  Like continuing to gloat and humiliate Jesus and Yahweh with his win.  Showing up as Satan just being Satan isn't as insidious.  But parading around an undead gospel, laughing your ass off behind the scenes, works wonders.

AJ says:
Also, The word Meizon or greater in John 14:12-14 refers to the disciples doing greater works in terms of quantity because of Jesus going back to the Father, but it doesn't necessarily mean that every disciple will be performing miracles here and there.
John 14:6, 14:12, and 14:23-24 are generalizable statements to "anyone" despite the overall context of chapter 14 being aimed at the disciples.  Jesus says "you" to refer to just the disciples and "anyone" to refer to um...anyone.  

And even if the one aspect means greater quantity rather than quality (which I don't concede since regardless Jesus says they can do "anything" and the power of "God" would be unlimited), there's still the "equal to" part which is more than sufficiently damning.  Even if not every disciple should be able to spew out miracles, why would we expect any given genuine Christian community to have zero?  Jesus and then his disciples can do them all the time and then they suddenly stop for the next 2,000 years like the issue wouldn't matter?  It's just not plausible.

AJ says:
What kind of Jesus has been fed to those? What world are they living in?
Maybe not every Christian has the miraculous ability to excuse absolutely everything they find in the Bible?  Lots of people actually struggle over these issues.  Putting up a false front of confidence before an ideologically hostile opponent does nothing to obscure that.

AJ says: 
If you think that Jesus was some laidback carefree lovey dovey so and so, then you are not even getting an accurate picture of Jesus. Jesus was not being rude to his family.  [...]  Are you saying that Jesus CANNOT be angry? That is absurd. You can be justified in anger if there is a just cause in being angry.
He cursed a fig tree.  Most people would find that a bit much.  It is more likely that Jesus was getting inappropriately angry, did something stupid, and the writers of the gospels decided to turn it into some kind of symbolic message to attempt to smooth such a bizarre story over.  Resorting to violence in the temple was equally wild behavior since it would not have changed anything about the temple practices. They would have simply gone back to doing what they were doing after his violent outburst.  And there's just no reason Jesus could not have been found to be consistently kind to his mother and disciples even when they were slightly out of line.  But instead he's just a jerk.  It is possible to criticize without name-calling, right?  That's what modern Christians expect of each other, typically.  But Jesus gets away with it.  Because reasons.

AJ says:
But no answer was provided as to WHY God was no longer with him, One what basis does Jesus having little knowledge indicate the Father was not with him?
We could have evidence where Jesus always knew everything.  If he was fully the Christian god, that would have made the most sense.  Instead we have evidence of Jesus getting away with being ignorant.  What other ignorant things did he get away with that we know nothing about?  This evidential situation makes the official story less probable and an alternative hypothesis like "maybe Yahweh had left Jesus to his own devices" more probable.  [Note: And then Luke comes along after the precedent of Jesus being ignorant of various things is established in other earlier gospels and he decides Jesus could have even been ignorant of things even as a child.  Even though Jesus had access to all knowledge up until the point where he failed in the desert.  And then Satan sent him delusions of knowledge when it was requested and Jesus couldn't tell the difference.]

AJ says:
[Jesus] predicts that Peter will die A FAITHFUL MAN. 
Lucky guess? The power of suggestion?  Untrustworthy accounts of virtually all the martyrdom stories?  A combination of these?  Pick one.

As further evidence of Jesus' ignorance, in Mark 7:1-5 Jesus doesn't know that washing your hands is actually a good thing.  Even if it is just with water.  This would have been a great time for the Holy Spirit to reveal that washing your hands is a good thing as well as having a religious lesson about mental purity.  Instead we get the latter without the former.  Busted.

AJ says:
There isn't any retconning on the part of the authors, they only record details relevant to their point, hence why certain statements are added or omitted. 
Asserting your theory at the expense of mine without explaining why it is more probable does not win the point.  Our earliest accounts of Jesus saying something embarrassing as though something has gone wrong. [Note, you can quote your favorite psalm to complain that something has gone wrong.]  Later accounts don't appear to like this and suspiciously put Jesus more in charge of his own destiny.

It appears AJ is not even considering seriously the weight of arguments for legendary development and polemical embellishment and would not recognize the evidence of it even if it were there all over the place.  [BTW, it's all over the place.]  That's not a fair fight.

AJ says:
If they were hallucinations, then the disciples were dying for a lost cause and genuinely believed it was still true, rather than know it was false and deceive. While a hallucination can affect all five senses, it isn't necessarily the case in all circumstances. It can be visual, heard or even touched or a combination of those things. 
In this time period hallucinations weren't typically understood as hallucinations according to ancient background knowledge.  They were considered visions and appearances of real divine beings.  We have plenty of pagan accounts of pagans having visions of pagan gods.  They may have been considered "really there" and made of real "heavenly materials."  Just as Jesus would have "really been there" and had a new glorious body made of "heavenly materials."

AJ says:
The disciples DID see the risen Jesus, a hallucination cannot adequately explain his post mortem appearances to 500 individuals over 40 days. 
Unless it was Satan masquerading as Jesus.  Or Paul bs-ing an audience who couldn't so easily verify such a claim many countries away (Greece to Israel, you know).  Or a vague claim equivalent to a modern Assemblies of God church on any given Sunday morning where everyone "witnesses" an appearance of the Holy Spirit and/or Jesus through collective ecstatic trance.  1 Corinthians 15 is just not specific enough to even bother to debate.

AJ says:
What reason would the apostles have to lie? They wouldn't have any reason to lie or create fanciful delusions deliberately if they knew that what they said is a lie. The disciples were terrified after Jesus' death, but when they saw him, they proclaimed his death and resurrection with a courageous streak. What changed men who were abject cowards into brave spiritual warriors? It is actually War On Error assuming that there is a conspiracy on the part of the disciples to mislead others into supporting a lost cause. 
Satan must be very persuasive with all that deception and all those miraculous powers of his.  It's amazing that AJ doesn't seem to think Satan is at all good at his job.

AJ says:
And why would Satan fake the resurrection and for what reason would he?
If Jesus were claiming all along that it was supposed to happen (like the gospels claim), then faking the resurrection to keep the religion going as a living farce would likely be the reason.  It's humiliation.  Plain and simple.  Why do you think Satan invented Islam and Mormonism?  Well...that might be boredom.  



Perhaps AJ will at least learn something about arguing outside the box.  Or maybe not.