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Feedback #5

Names and e-mail addresses have been witheld to protect the guilty. If you recognise your letter here, and wish to have your name and address displayed, feel free to contact me.

Received: 4/29/98

In your mind, what is the consequence a "disciple of Christ" will deal with in the future? What does one lose by believing?

Not an easy question to answer. Speaking for myself, I would say that the believer loses the freedom to think and act in a manner that s/he finds personally fulfilling. In addition, I feel that the believer misses out on the sense of wonder and mystery that follows contemplation of the cosmos, unfettered by a need to fit into a rigid thought pattern. Of course, these are my own subjective opinions. Your mileage may vary.

One thing that I remember from my teenage years as a True Believer was almost wishing that evolution was true. For some reason, even as a Christian Fundamentalist, I found the thought of evolution to be strangely attractive, and exotic. By comparison, the creation myths that I was forced to believe in seemed shallow and pallid - like a fairy tale told once too often.

Clearly you have some sort of strong conviction to put so much work into refuting Christian doctrine and history or any religion for that matter. Why? What to you is offensive about its teachings? What makes it worse or better than one set of doctrine or another?

It is no worse nor better than any other religious system - it just happens to be the system that I am most familiar with. I feel the same way about Islam and Hinduism, but lack the knowledge to be able to speak authoritatively on the subject.

I know the Bible well. During my years as a Christian, I have read it right through, cover to cover, literally more times than I can remember. I memorized large tracts of the King James version. I could at one time quote more than two thousand verses from the New Testament, including the entire gospel of John.

While certainly not an expert, I feel that I have enough knowledge about the Bible to be able to critique it.

Another reason why I feel it necessary to oppose Fundamentalist Christianity is that they are a particularly vocal and dangerous group in America, my adopted country. I want my children to be able to learn all they can about real Science at school, not some millennia old myth with no more relevance than the Iliad or the Odyssey. I want to live in a country where I am free to make my own choices, to believe, or not believe, as I see fit. The actions of the Religious Right constitute a distinct threat to that way of life.

Aquinas used reason, without the Bible or anything like that, to demonstrate that God must exist. I'm sure that you put a lot of weight on reason and logic. I think that is good. Have you ever taken any interest in his thinking?

When I last read the Summa Theologica, it appeared to me that Aquinas placed reason and revelation on an equal footing. I, on the other hand, feel that the latter is essentially useless in the search for truth.

I took the opportunity to point out something that I found as a minor discrepancy in your mention of Paul and it turned into a bigger argument than I intended. Clearly you've done your homework, albeit with intentions to find loopholes. My opinion of that is not of interest to you. Bible's teaching about that you probably know. It says you're blind to spiritual things (1 Corinth 2).

I am aware of this and other verses, although I tend to view them with some disdain. The Bible, like most religious books, tends to denigrate independent thought, and belittles trust in reason alone. And with good reason. If you read the testimonies of individuals who have lost faith, you will find that the vast majority of them begin with an independent thought, a quest for truth that leads outside of the stifling realm of religious mind-control. I see the above verse as just one more attempt to keep the sheep in line.

The death of Jesus changed the calendar and it changes people's lives today. However, "The message of the cross is foolish to those who are perishing, but it is the power of God to those who are being saved." (1 Corinthians 1:18)

Not to be picky, but we still actually have no idea when Jesus was born, nor when he died. The calendar that we use today was devised centuries after the time of Jesus. We now know that it is at least four years too late, according to Matthew, and six years too early, according to Luke. The calendar is an anachronism, nothing more.

The Muslims count their years from Mohammed's flight to Medina (around 600 AD). Does this mean that I should pay any attention to the ramblings of this murdering misogynist? Should you?

If to you it seems foolish and mindless to follow these 'myths', that's your perogative. But I'm willing to be foolish enough to have a hope for a future rather than no hope because of death that leads to nothingness. If the Bible is true and Jesus is who HE says he is, then there are consequences for not accepting Him that are not pleasant. Hell doesn't seem like a pleasant place to be and I don't want to go there.

Ditto. Fortunately, I know that there is no such place.

Received: 4/29/98

I am not writing to proselytize or to call you back to the faith. I am just writing because it irritates me to know that it is stupid Protestant pastors and preachers just like Catholic priests most of the time do not know what they are talking about while they think they are preaching the word of God.

I have studied most religions of the world from pagan to humanist which passes through religions of the Far East, Africa, Zoroastern, Bahaii, Hebrew, Christian, Muslim, and agnostic humanism.

The first things that stand out as unforgivable teachings which you were taught were the myths of creation of the world in seven days, Adam and Eve, Noah and the Ark and the ignorance of the Bible as literally true and that "converted" Baptists or fundamentalists are saved. All these should be taken with a grain of salt and called what they really are, myths and unfounded claims.

When they say, God punishes with disease, death or whatever, they err because this is the course of nature not God punishing the world from his "Olympus".

Stories of resurrection are as old as time itself and the Eucharist is nothing more than a Passover meal which the Jews learned from the Phoenician or Canaanite Melchizadeck, High Priest of Salem when he offered bread and wine to Abraham (supposedly).

Why am I writing this? I am because stupid Fundamentalists and ignorant Priests make people who start Christian like you abandon their faith -- the blind leading the blind.

I congratulate you on making your stand for Agnosticism though I could see that your understanding is lacking of the doctrines, culture of the time of Christ, the philology of New Testament, and most of all you were given a blurred image of what God is and the fact that the Trinity is not three persons but three manifestation or dimensions of the same God.

I agree with almost everything that you said. I, too, spent much time reading the holy books and other writings of many other faiths. It was this that finally led me to abandon fundamentalist Christianity, because I came to the conclusion that there really was very little difference between them. All make the same unprovable claims, and all defend their claims using the same brand of illogic.

It came down to only two choices: either all religions are equally inspired of God, or none of them are. I feel that the evidence, at this point in time, supports the latter conclusion.

Received: 4/28/98

I have followed your link to Jack Van Impe's web site and nowhere in there does he make a prediction as to a specific date (day). He uses the words "perhaps" and "it could", fully in keeping with Biblical prophecy and the signs of the age. I think your desire to fill your web page and to disdain all religious commitment has motivated you to distort his writings - this makes you a false witness - and that of a man of God - not an eviable thing my friend. So I hope you repent and reserve you page those who are tempted to make a prediction of the day or the hour of Christ's return. Something Jesus said no man knows not even Himself but the Father alone.

A few quotes from the promotion for Van Impe's book "2001: On the Edge of Eternity"...

"Politically the year 2001 will usher in international chaos such as we've never seen in our history..."

"Fasten your seat belts, because more shaking is on the way for 2001 and beyond."

"By the year 2001, there will be global chaos."

"By the year 2001, mindless gang warfare will be rampant in both the streets of our inner cities and in our once- quiet suburbs?"

"Anti-family Crusade. While the "mark" will be individualized, "group think" will become universal in the last days. By the year 2001, such devilish thinking will usher in the most radical, atheistic and anti-family crusade in the history of the world."

"There's a convergence of prophetic fulfillment on all fronts as we move toward the year 2001, the Edge of Eternity."

It may be true that Van Impe hedges his bets a little, but it is also true that he is singling out the year 2001 for special attention. This makes him a perfect candidate for the list, in my opinion.

Received: 4/17/98

Thanks for your web site stuff. Your stuff about the Book of Mormon is what I was looking for.

When I was reading your answer to the question "Why study Mormonism?" I ran across a couple statements that I wanted to comment on.

Is it further possible that much of what we know of as Christian doctrine was invented by Paul? Paul never met Jesus, and claims to have received his doctrine directly from God in the form of visions and revelations. Is it possible that Paul, influenced by the prevailing Paganism of his day, invented a mystical background for Jesus?

Is it further possible that the Gospel writers received their narratives from legends and myths that circulated in the early church, long after Jesus had died and been buried?

Paul was a Jew. He persecuted and killed Christians for a time. Something happened to change that right. What was that? If you read in the Book of Acts, you see that Paul did meet Jesus. Face to face Jesus inquired of him, "Why do you persecute me?" After that, Paul changed radically in support for what these Christians were claiming. He began to defend what was already there.

Paul had a vision of Jesus Christ, which is not exactly a solid base on which to build a faith.

You are correct, however, that the Church did already exist at the time of Paul's conversion. The questions is: what did they believe? This is a very complicated topic, but the New Testament seems to indicate that there were different factions within the early Church.

The earliest faction appears to have been the Jewish-Christians, those who saw Jesus as a Rabbi, not as a semi-divine being. Paul records several encounters with this group.

Galatians 2:9-14 (NIV) James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews. All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.

When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, "You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?

From this, and other passages, we can gather that the Jewish-Christian faction believed that the Law was still in force. This faction was led by James, reputed to be the brother of Jesus. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that the book of James displays the most legalistic thinking in the New Testament, and repeatedly denies that grace alone is able to save.

James 2:14 (NIV) What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?

James 2:20-24 (NIV) You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless ? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called God's friend. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.

You will also note that James never once refers to Jesus' sacrifice, which was the very basis of Paul's theology.

Eventually, Paul and the James faction agreed to disagree, and Paul went to the Gentiles with his message of a semi-divine savior sacrificed for the sins of the world (a concept that he may have borrowed from the very prevalent cult of Mithras in his home town of Tarsus). Over the course of time, the Jewish faction died out, and Paul's brand of Christianity became ascendant. (For an excellent treatment of this isue, see Burton Mack's book "Who wrote the New Testament?").

He lived in the time of the early church. Paul lived in a time when the things they saw and heard of Jesus were uncontested; even by those who chose not to follow. If you study textual criticism, you'll find that the dating of the texts of the early church are all completed before 70 A.D which happens to be the time Paul was killed in the Nero Persecution. Those writings had to be completed within no more than 30 years after the death of Jesus. You will also read in Acts 1:1-3 that after Jesus resurrected, He returned to spend time with the disciples for 40 days in which time he told them a lot more stuff. His appearance at this time is also uncontested by those who were not followers of him.

Actually, textual criticism has established that the New Testament was written over a long period of time. Most scholars agree that Paul's epistles are probably the earliest, dating to less than twenty years after the death of Christ. The gospels, however, were written much later, well after 70 AD, by unknown persons. This is plenty of time for a myth to originate. It is quite significant that Paul gives very few details of Jesus' life, and when he does give details (such as the order of Christ's appearances after his resurrection in I Corinthians 15), he tends to contradict the gospels.

As for his appearance being uncontested, there are several problems. First, you are assuming that the New Testament accounts are accurate. However, secular history is almost completely silent on Jesus and the early Christians, which seems to contradict the gospels and the Book of Acts, which claim that Jesus was well-known, and that the early Christian were repeatedly in trouble with the authorities.

So here is what you get...If the Apostles are lying or making things up or borrowing myths and legands; to what end? Why have the stories in there at all? Why rip on yourself for being a slug when one of your best friends is in ultimate turmoil?

Then there is the question (in a situation with lying Apostles) of Jesus' character. He's admittedly the greatest spiritual teacher of all time and all His Apostles are stinking liars who got lots of Christians butchered for their lies. In that case He would be a lousy moral teacher. I have a better moral record with my disciples than He does (if the Apostles are liars).

What if the Apostles just made up the whole story, Jesus and all? In that case you have a bunch of moral wretches coming up with the greatest moral and spiritual teaching in history. And it doesn't matter if they accept the Apostles as the authors of the Gospels or not, because whoever wrote the stories (if they're fiction) passed them off as truth, when they're lies. Obviously nonsense. Here's a good line, "If Jesus did not say the things written in the Gospels, I want to know who did. So I can follow Him."

I think you need to look a little closer into the way that myths arise and develop. You also have to remember that it is quite possibly for a person to be very sincere in a belief, but to be very sincerely wrong.

Even if the gospels do contain great moral teachings (which is debatable) this still does not make them God-inspired. Many other books are inspiring, some far more so than the Bible.

Received: 4/27/98 (in response to above)

"Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called God's friend.

What action is there in believing? Is it a deed? Abraham didn't do it, that is, he didn't go through with the deed. God knows the heart without the action and therefore, Abraham did not have to make the sacrifice. James is talking about fruits of faith when he talks about works in the context of his passage. (You left out context by not including verse 16..."If one of you says to him, 'Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?" (NIV) That is, people know you are who you say you are when your actions match up with what you say you believe. If you say you're saved, but you go around being a jerk or whatever, then people will scoff in your face. James is showing that one is known to be a believer by their obedience. This does not disagree with Paul's theology and it does not interfere with grace. All the verses have to be included to get the context right.

This is the standard reconciliation between James and Paul, but I don't buy it. Basically, it attempts to make James say something that he obviously did not intend. The entire gist of James' thesis is that faith and works are required for salvation. (This includes the context of verse 16).

James 2:17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
James 2:20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?

The examples that James provides, that of Abraham and Rahab, both underscore this point. Instead of works being the result of faith, as the standard response goes, James shows that in both cases, works accompanied faith to produce salvation. This is the entire point of James' epistle - that faith without accompanying works is useless.

James 2:24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.
James 2:26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

This, of course, runs counter to Paul's argument that salvation is based on grace alone, and is a gift of God.

Romans 4:1-5 What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.

Ironically, or perhaps by design, both Paul and James use the same Old Testament "proof text" (Genesis 15:6) to arrive at divergent conclusions.

That [the fact that James never refers to Jesus' sacrifice] is because James is writting a letter to teach on Christian living and questiong how people are acting... Just because James didn't write about JeSuS' death, doesn't mean that he didn't agree with Paul, he was just dealing with different set of issues because he was writing to a different group of people.

Correct, but it appears that he was writing to Jewish Christians. Notice how James seems to intimate that his readers were still under the rule of the Law.

James 2:10-12 For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law. So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.

Notice also how Paul claims that James forbade his followers to eat with Gentiles in Galatians 2:12.

Given this tack, the exclusion of any reference to Jesus' sacrifice makes sense. James, and his followers, saw Jesus simply as a Rabbi, not as a semi-divine being, crucified for the sins of mankind.

Couldn't it be that the Mithras borrowed it [the concept of a semi-divine savior] from the Christians?

Actually, Mithraism predates Christianity by a very long time. The origins of the religion are uncertain, but the deity Mithras was known to the ancient Persians as far back as 600 BC.

For example, if you look at Mormonism, you see a lot of stuff borrowed from Christianity. You also see a lot of stuff in Mormonism borrowed from the Masonic Cult and from many of the early church heretics. For example, Arius was a heretic of the early church who tried to suggest that Jesus was not co-eternal with the Father. That Jesus was God, but not co-eternal with God (or logos as the greeks referred to him). That makes 2 gods. This is in likeness with Mormon doctrine of seperate Gods, the father Elohim and Jesus begotten by sex with Mary. Or pre-existing spirit Mormon doctrine. Gnostics came up with that idea LONG ago. I wouldn't be surprised if these teachers of LDS doctrine took the thinkers of early church heretics and adopted their ideas into their church. The ideas aren't new so they must've gotten them from somewhere. If you look at Moromon temple cermonies and such, you see that they are almost carbon copy of Masonic rites. Now when you talk to a Mormon, you think you're talking to a Christian and they won't tell you this stuff about their doctrine that is a bit differnt. They just try to sound nice and Christiany, you know. Just something to think about.

Have you read Evidence that Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell? Give it a shot. You'll find it intellectually engaging and challenging. It is an in depth detailed look at textual criticism among MANY other things that people are always questioning about Christianity. McDowell was an agnositic who wanted to prove by all angles that Christianity was a myth. See what his research has to say about all this.

I have read McDowell. (In fact, I have copies of both "Evidence" and "Evidence II" in my library). Suffice to say that McDowell commits so many errors of logic that it is almost impossible to list them all. There is a detailed refutation of "Evidence" at the Secular Web. I have also written a refutation of the first chapter of "Evidence".

"We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty." 2 Peter 1:16 (NIV)

"Many will follow their own shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up..." 2 Peter 2:2-3

Paul says he preaches something that is not made up by any man...Galatians 1:11

Joseph Smith said precisely the same thing. Anyone can claim anything that they like. Proving it is another matter altogether.

Luke gave his purpose in writing to Theophilus (Luke 1:1-3) "Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself (a gentile, btw) have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught."

Notice Luke uses the word "fulfilled". That word brings up another good question that you mentioned briefly. It considers the question of God-inspiration. What was there to fulfill? There was a Hebrew Bible well before (500 years before) the New Testament came about. You have prophetic word from these scriptures and they got fulfilled word for word to the letter time after time and we see this in the accounts of the four gospels. How do you deal with that issue?

Quite easily - it is not an issue at all. Basically, the Gospel writers took Old Testament quotes completely out of time and context, and twisted them to apply to Christ. The so-called "prophecy" of the virgin birth of Christ in Matthew is a good example. Not only does the source passage not contain the word "virgin", but it was referring to a completely different event - one that was fulfilled in Isaiah's own time.

[Secular history is silent about the early Christians] Exactly. Christians were in trouble with the SeCuLaR authorities. That is, the Roman Emperors. You've got guys like Domitian, Marcus Aurelius, Diocletian, Nero, Septimus Servus, Decius all getting upset with Christians just becuase they were "anti-social haters of human kind." What made them anti social? They wouldn't support the demands of the emperors to bow to the Roman gods. Christians wouldn't participate in theatre, the army, sports and the like because they were so entwined in pagan worship that they didn't want to be a part of. For this, they were called haters of human kind. Christians were getting killed for a myth for three hundred years?

These stories of persecutions are consistent by secular and religious historians. This particular story of Nero persecution was told by the RoMaN historian Tacitus. How do you get around that?

There is nothing to get around. Notice that I said the early Christians. The later exploits and persecutions of the Christians are well documented, but the exploits of the Apostles do not exist outside of the book of Acts. In fact, there is no hard proof that the Apostles themselves ever existed, aside from some very vague and contradictory traditions of the Catholic Church.

It is also interesting to take note that Paul was killed in the Nero persecution which was around 65 A.D.

How do you know this? Is it documented by any early historian, or is it simply one more Church tradition?

Another thing to think about concerning dating of the writing of the Gospels is the early church apologists. There were great defenders of the faith from the early second century like Tertullian of Carthage, Clement of Alexandria, Justin Martyr, Origen of Alexandria, Ignatius of Antioch, and Irenaus of Lyons to name some of the well known. In the exchange of letters and oratories of these men, the gospels are quoted countless times. If these early apologists were quoting from the gospels in the 100's, then how could the gospels have been written way later? These men were familiar with the texts they were quoting which shows that the stuff had been around for a little while.

Tertullian was born about AD 160, and converted to Christianity about AD 197. Origen wrote his works about 250 AD. Clement of Alexandria lived and wrote about the third century AD. (Also note that there is some debate about whether the epistles that bear his name were actually written by him). All lived decades after the proposed dates of the gospels.

Justin Martyr is about the earliest. It is not known exactly when he lived, although a date of about AD 100 had been proposed, with a date of about AD 140 for his writings. However, I think that your source may have led you astray on this point. There is very little in Justin Martyr's writings that belong to the New Testament. He never once refers to the apostle Paul. He never once mentions Matthew, Mark, Luke or John by name. He refers to "gospels", but cites stories and events that are not found in any of the four works that we know as gospels. If anything, Justin Martyr is a witness against the early date of the gospels, for it is very evident that he did not quote any of them.

[I think you need to look a little closer into the way that myths arise.] dittos. Read Evidence That Demands A Verdict. I'm doing my homework.

[You also have to remember that it is quite possibly for a person to be very sincere in a belief, but to be very sincerely wrong.] I absolutely agree with this statement.

"We do not seek to flatter you, . . . but request that you judge on the basis of a proper and thorough investigation." Justin Martyr

"Error never shows itself in its naked reality, in order not to be discovered. On the contrary, it dresses elegantly, so that the unwary may be led to believe that it is more truthful than truth itself." Irenaeus of Lyons

Received: 4/7/98

I wonder do you make money selling the info you have here? I read through most of it until I couldn't stand it any more. Did it ever occur to you that the gospel is the same evey where? Would Christ teach one thing in the old world and then change it in the new world? Duh

Do I make any money? Quite the opposite, in fact.

As for the gospel being the same every where, I suggest you get hold of a logic primer and look up the concept "circular argument".

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