By David Madison
Here is the link to this article.
It’s a big fat F
So far I have posted three Pop-Quizzes for Christians here on the DC Blog (One Two Three). My motive has been to coax, to prod Christians to read the Bible, to study the gospels especially. Surveys have shown that most can’t be bothered. I encourage readers to share these pop-quizzes with their church-going friends and relatives.
A few weeks after Pop-Quiz Number 3 was posted, a Christian who identifies as Oreo Pagus offered his comments on the post. The first question on the quiz is about science: What was Carl Sagan referring to when he described The Pale Blue Dot. Oreo Pagus gave the correct answer: Planet Earth, about which Sagan had observed:
“Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.”
Oreo quoted the last sentence, then added this observation: “Perhaps our planet’s small size and apparent isolation in the universe may actually point to its vast importance, negating Sagan’s observation while validating the Christian worldview.”
Apparent isolation? Earth’s vast importance? Validating the Christian worldview? How is our isolation “apparent”? It would take more that 80,000 years for a spacecraft from earth—traveling at the speed of earth satellites, i.e., 18,000 mph—to reach the star nearest our sun. It would have been appropriate for Oreo to provide the precise data demonstrating that earth’s “vast importance” is based on its small size, and how this validates “the Christian worldview.”
But no, Oreo picked up on these words in the Sagan quote: “…there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.” From this he switched directly to Jesus:
“The New Testament more than hints that we can’t save ourselves. Jesus of Nazareth said human conflict would one day get to the point of crisis that if he didn’t return to Earth, there would be no one left alive! The current number of nuclear weapons certainly have the ability to destroy all life on Earth many times over.”
He added Jesus-script found in Matthew 24:22, “If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.” Oreo then included a list of nine nations possessing nuclear weapons.
And he provided a link to a statement by theologian Krista Bontrager, who counters Sagan with—wait for it—Bible quotes, e.g.,
Genesis 1:16: “God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars.”
Psalm 8:3: “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established…”
Isaiah 45:12: “I made the earth and created humankind upon it; it was my hands that stretched out the heavens, and I commanded all their host.”
Bontrager concludes her argument: “The Creator’s interventions implies [sic] not only that our planet is the result of purposeful design, but also that the Earth itself has a meaning and purpose by providing a home for humanity. It also furnishes the venue for the Creator to bring about the salvation of His creation.”
Why These Answers Get a Flunking Grade
1. It’s quite a shock that Oreo would turn to perhaps the worst theology in the New Testament to make his case for Christianity. Matthew 24, which he quotes, is based on Mark 13, and is a brutal promise—a frightful prediction—that god plans to get even with sinners, i.e., most of humanity. It will be a time of panic and terror. In Matthew 24:37-39, Jesus promises there will be as much suffering when he come as there was at the time of Noah.
Oreo wrote that Jesus said “…human conflict would one day get to the point of crisis that if he didn’t return to Earth, there would be no one left alive!” But he ignores the timing promised in the texts. In Mark 14:62—script created by Mark—Jesus promised at his trial that those attending would see him coming on the clouds. At the end of Mark 13, we find this urgent warning: “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert, you do not know when the time will come….And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” In other words, god’s revenge would happen soon, and the apostle Paul was just as confident about this. These ancient authors would have been stunned to know that Christians two thousand years later are still waiting!
So is planet Earth “vastly important” to god because there are billions of humans here to punish? Is that good theology? And, by the way, is that the Christian worldview? We can suspect that many devout Christians would like to distance themselves from Mark 13 and Matthew 24. They find ways to tone down these texts, change them into metaphors—or something—toavoid such horrible theology, i.e., most of humanity will be obliterated while the Christian remnant survives.
2. Oreo seems unaware that Jesus-script in the gospels cannot be taken at face value, that is, as actual words of Jesus. We have no way at all to verify any of the deeds or words of Jesus mentioned in the gospels. So it’s no use to point to any verse and claim, “This is what Jesus said, that settles it.”
Devout New Testament scholars have indulged in endless speculation about how to figure out which “words of Jesus” might be authentic. Which words could have derived from eyewitnesses, which might have been based on “reliable” oral tradition? But all this remains speculation. There is no contemporaneous documentation at all (e.g., letters, diaries, transcriptions) by which to verify anything reported in the gospels, written decades after the events depicted. Scholars have suggested various “criteria of authenticity,” but these too are speculation, and have been disputed. It does no good to claim authenticity because the gospels were inspired by a god: so they must be true. Other religions—those that Christians ignore and don’t believe in—justify their “truths” on exactly the same basis. Christian scriptures must be critiqued as rigorously as any other documents from the ancient world, and when that is done, we can see how far short they fall as history.
3. Krista Bontrager has given us theobabble. In the form, first of all, of Bible quotes, which will appeal to clueless lay readers. There are many creation myths from the ancient world; would she quote from any of them to prove the existence of the other gods? What feeble, amateurish methodology! Then she wrote that god’s interventions imply “…not only that our planet is the result of purposeful design, but also that the Earth itself has a meaning and purpose by providing a home for humanity.”
Her god’s interventions have been hit-and-miss. Was this god busy elsewhere in the galaxy when the Holocaust happened—to his chosen people?
So many critics have pointed out the lack of purposeful design (see especially, Abby Hafer’s The Not-So-Intelligent Designer: Why Evolution Explains the Human Body and Intelligent Design Does Not). What is the “meaning and purpose” of a home for humanity that is filled with ongoing terrors? Hurricanes, tornadoes, volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, thousands of genetic diseases, virulent microbes, and plagues have ravaged humans for millennia. A god is to be congratulated for setting things up this way? (See also, John Loftus’ essay, “On Making Excuses for God,” in his 2021 anthology, God and Horrendous Suffering.) Bontrager heightens her theobabble with the claim that earth provides “the venue for the Creator to bring about the salvation of His creation.” How can the massacre of most of humanity—when Jesus arrives to bring his kingdom—be construed as “the salvation of his creation”? If creation had been set up properly to begin with, why would it even need salvation?
More Reasons for the Flunking Grade
Surely any student who answers just one question—and poorly at that—while ignoring all the other questions, deserves a big fat F. There are four more questions on Pop Quiz 3, all about the gospels, but Oreo declined to answer them. Again, my primary purpose in these pop quizzes is to prod Christians to study—bring critical thought—to the gospels.
Question 2 is about a few questionable things in Mark’s gospel, and one part especially applies to Oreo’s approach: “How do you incorporate the theology of Mark, Chapter 13 into your understanding of a loving God?” The devout have to carefully cherry-pick Bible texts to argue that their god is loving. Even John 3 is a minefield, i.e., after verse 16, “God so loved the world…” we find verse 18, “those who do not believe are condemned already” and verse 36, “whoever disobeys the Son will not see life but must endure God’s wrath.” As we have seen, Mark 13 is brutal theology, and many Christians just turn their backs on it, dismissing it any way they can.
Question 3 is about Matthew’s very bad habit of misquoting Old Testament texts, wanting to convince/fool his readers that they apply to Jesus. These are an embarrassment to even devout scholars, but lay people are almost never alerted to Matthew’s faulty approach by priests and preachers.
Questions 4 and 5 are about two post-resurrection Jesus episodes, the Emmaus Road story, found only in Luke; and the Doubting Thomas story, found only in John. I asked in each case: “Discuss the elements in the story that don’t look like history—and the factors that rule out its status as history.” Believes should try to grasp exactly why historians are reluctant to take these accounts seriously. Again: Christian scriptures are not exempt from the rules that historians use to establish authenticity. I also asked, “How do these stories conflict with the apostle Paul’s understanding of resurrection?” They are problematic even theologically.
Oreo chose not to engage on these issues. Instead he came up with a Pop Quiz for Atheists:
1. Are you a hard/strong/positive atheist or a soft/weak/negative atheist? Why that type of atheist? 2. What kind of evidence (s) would you need to even consider the possibility that the Triune God of the Bible really exists? 3. What kind of evidence (s) would you need to even consider the possibility that Jesus of Nazareth really was “God manifest in the flesh” (I Timothy 3:16) when he was living on earth?
I’m happy to take Oreo’s pop quiz.
1. Are you a hard/strong/positive atheist or a soft/weak/negative atheist? Why that type of atheist?
I am a hard/strong/positive atheist. In my 2016 book, Ten Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief, I address the many problems that hobble Christianity; any one of them is enough to falsify the faith. Taken together the case against it is overwhelming. The books by John Loftus, especially the one mentioned above, God and Horrendous Suffering, show that belief in an omni-god is not sustainable. Here’s the positive: Anything that can help people escape belief in ancient superstitions (e.g., eat Jesus and you get eternal life, John 6:53-57) is positive, hence we should also encourage those who point out how silly astrology is—and belief in fortune telling and contacting the dead through séances.
2. What kind of evidence (s) would you need to even consider the possibility that the Triune God of the Bible really exists?
It would be a good idea to address this question first to other devout theists, such as Jews and Muslims, who despite their deep piety, do not believe in a Triune God. Our request to Christians remains the same: please show us where we can find reliable, verifiable, objective data about god(s), and theists must agree, “Yes, that’s where to find it.” This never happens, because theists have never been able to agree on whose scriptures, visions, mediations are genuinely from god(s). Are Christians willing to expand their Bibles to include the Qur’an and the Book of Mormon? Indeed, do they embrace the accounts about their god in the Old Testament (of course they don’t).
3. What kind of evidence (s) would you need to even consider the possibility that Jesus of Nazareth really was “God manifest in the flesh” (I Timothy 3:16) when he was living on earth?
It’s basically the same answer: “Please show us where we can find reliable, verifiable, objective data about god(s), and theist must agree, “Yes, that’s where to find it.” But also, the many negatives about Jesus in the gospels would have to explained, removed, discounted. A “god manifest in the flesh” would not have been wrong about so much; see my website, BadThingsJesusTaught, which includes a list of 292 bad, mediocre, and alarming Jesus quotes in four categories: (1) preaching about the end time, (2) scary extremism, (3) bad advice and bad theology, and (4) the unreal Jesus of John’s gospel. Moreover, “when he was living on earth” begs the question: did Jesus really exist? Instead of a knee-jerk reaction, “Of course he did, don’t be silly,” Christians should inform themselves on the substantial reasons why there is doubt—many of them based on the New Testament itself.
And, by the way, I Timothy 3:16 qualifies fully as theobabble. It says that their god-in-the-flesh was “…seen by angels,proclaimed among gentiles, believed in throughout the world, taken up in glory.”
In the next month or so, I’ll published Pop Quiz for Christian, Number 4. What’s the harm in trying to get Christians to read the gospels? In the hope, of course, that they’ll see the incoherence of Christian theology. It didn’t work with Oreo—at least he refused to rise of the challenge of honestly facing the issues that critical Bible study presents.
David Madison was a pastor in the Methodist Church for nine years, and has a PhD in Biblical Studies from Boston University. He is the author of two books, Ten Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief: a Minister-Turned-Atheist Shows Why You Should Ditch the Faith (2016; 2018 Foreword by John Loftus) and Ten Things Christians Wish Jesus Hadn’t Taught: And Other Reasons to Question His Words (2021). His YouTube channel is here. He has written for the Debunking Christian Blog since 2016.
The Cure-for-Christianity Library©, now with more than 500 titles, is here. A brief video explanation of the Library is here.