A Christian Reaction to ‘Alien Worlds’–How Writers of Faith Can Do More
Parker J. Cole’s recent article on the Neflix 4 part miniseries title “Alien Worlds” stirred something in my mind, something I want to point out about how Christians who decide to produce speculative fiction are overall less limited in talking about aliens than are writers of realistic or “hard” science fiction who do not believe in God. This is true in spite of the fact some Christian writers are leery of tackling the subject of aliens because of some theological issues the concept of aliens raises for some people.
The Atheistic Evolutionary Worldview of Alien Worlds
Before we examine the freedom Christians have in portraying alien life, let’s look at the worldview that underpinned the miniseries Alien Worlds that Parker talked about in specific detail. I’d summarize the essentially atheistic philosophy behind Alien Worlds as follows:
- Earth Not Special: We live in a vast universe in which we can observe no particular structural reason Earth is special (and we cast aside religious teaching about our world being special as myopic superstition). Therefore life on Earth should not be seen as special.
- Same Conditions, Same Chance for Life: Since life on Earth is not special, life arising here but not obviously on places like the moon and Mercury must mean that conditions like Earth’s would allow life to arise anywhere with similar conditions.
- Liquid Water the Key: Specifically, places in the universe that can hold liquid water should produce DNA-based life, just as liquid water is full of life on Planet Earth, even when that water is extremely hot, cold, salty, or toxic.
- “Goldilocks Planets” Should Have Liquid Water: Therefore exoplanets of sufficient size to retain an atmosphere should have one and should also have liquid water (an atmosphere protects liquid water and keeps it from vacuum evaporation), that is, if the planets are not too close or too far from their sun (if they are in the “Goldilocks zone”).
- Some “Goldilocks” Planets Quite Different from us: However, some of the planets able to meet point 4 are radically different from Earth. Alien Worlds examines four such planets: the first, with both more gravity and a thicker atmosphere than Earth; the second, a planet tidally locked with a red dwarf sun; the third, a world supposedly even more ideal for life than Earth; the fourth, a star where life began long before Earth, where supposedly a highly advanced civilization could thrive.
- An Abundance of Life Necessary: Since the universe holds uncounted billions of exoplanets with conditions that support liquid water, even ones in some ways quite different from Earth, the universe must be teeming with life.
- Darwinism Shapes Life Throughout the Universe: Life, once it exists, must follow rules like life on Earth. We can expect struggles for survival to dominate the interactions of species, as well as sexual selection and social cooperation and death and reproduction, just as we see such things on Earth, but with local twists in specifically how Darwinism affects life on each planet. Which was mostly what Alien Worlds discussed (though it also talked about conditions allowing life to exist at all).
A Scientific Criticism of the Evolutionary Worldview of Alien Worlds
Just talking about evidence and scientific reason, there are a number of criticisms that can be lobbed at the worldview behind Alien Worlds:
- Single Origin of Earth’s Life: All life forms occurring on Earth have genes in common with other life forms. So if the argument is that life arose by the forces of nature just doing what they do, that action, the transition from non-life to life (abiogenesis) would have to have happened only once on Earth. Which, since the Earth is vast with many separate environments, would seem to imply life generating itself is difficult. If difficult, it may have been extremely unlikely even here and therefore the universe may have many water planets devoid of life. (Note of course Intelligent Design people would say the common genetic material in life would stem from a common designer of all life.)
- Science Overestimated Extraterrestrial Life Before: Early analysis of planets like Venus and Mars led people to assume they had abundant life. Venus is within the “Goldilocks zone” of our sun but is a hellhole with an atmosphere almost one hundred times as dense as our own and hot enough to melt led. Venus, as far as current science knows, is utterly devoid of life. Mars is too small to retain enough atmosphere for liquid water on its surface, but this issue used to be unknown. In other words, past theories that assumed abundant life in the Solar System proved to be wrong because of unanticipated factors. Should we really think there would be no unanticipated factors concerning life around other stars?
- Science Wrong About Planetary Formation in the Past: This point is like 2, but worth pointing out separately. Someone who doesn’t read science of the past and old science fiction may think the discovery of exoplanets by various means has greatly increased the number of inhabitable planets thought to exist in the galaxy. In fact, the opposite is true. Given the lack of information, scientific speculation of, say, the 1950s, assumed that planets of all types were abundant. Further, it was assumed that small rocky planets must form closer to the sun, because solar radiation would move too much light materials away to form gas giants. It was also assumed that planets, in contrast to asteroids and comets, must generally follow circular orbits, since the accretion disk around a star is mostly circular. Discovered exoplanets explode those theories of the past. Planets so large they must be gas giants hug closer to many stars than Mercury. Many planets have wildly elliptical orbits. Many star systems seem to have only one planet–at least as far as anyone can tell. And the majority of discovered planets are nowhere near the “Goldilocks Zone.” So, if scientific discoveries of the past greatly reduced the number of planets imagined to be suitable for life, who’s to say that won’t happen again?
- Fermi Paradox: Since the thinking of the past was that not only is life not uncommon, intelligent life must also be common, then you’d expect at least some life to go through technological development. If even a small portion did and at some point developed radio signals, the sheer number of planets would mean the galaxy should be filled with radio messages of intelligent beings. But it isn’t. Unlike points 1-3 which are rarely the subject of discussion, this idea is talked about quite a lot by modern science and has it’s own term, the Fermi Paradox (because Enrico Fermi raised the question) and is the subject of a great deal of conjecture and debate. (I’m linking a YouTube video that presents the top disturbing speculative answers to the Fermi Paradox). The bottom line here though is some of the answers offered to the Fermi Paradox involve questioning if life really is common after all. In fact, scientist Howard Smith objects to many of the assumptions that led to the production of Alien Worlds, with a video presenting his views linked here (note the video includes metions of a Biblical worldview and philosophies of the past).
Theological Objections to the Worldview Behind Alien Worlds
These I’m not going to number here. They center around the idea that God really did create the Earth to be special, even if it doesn’t appear to be. And that the Biblical account of sin and death reveals what God intended life to live in idyllic conditions and only sin made things turn sour. Also that redemption came through Christ, who had to be human. I listed 8 objections as I answered them in a previous article, detailing why I thought someone holding a Biblical worldview could nonetheless write about aliens if he or she wanted to do so.
Our Freedom to Create Hard Sci-Fi Within a Biblical Worldview
So here’s the real point of this article: Christian creators of science fiction are not in fact limited to the way the scientific community sees the universe, whether by people who believe in alien life in the way the producers of Alien Worlds do, nor like the scientists highly skeptical of humans ever meeting aliens, like Dr. Howard Smith. Here’s some things we can do, writing hard science fiction from a Christian point of view, that atheists writing hard science fiction can’t do:
- Earth-Centric Extraterrestrial: Belief in God as the Creator of Earth as special place opens the door to creating stories in which Earth really is the only source of life. That doesn’t mean only Earth is inhabited–maybe Enoch or the Nephilim or at the Tower of Babel humans travelled into outer space. Maybe even seeded space with life elsewhere by early humans, taking with them life that’s long extinct on Earth. AND, if we allow genetic engineering or cybernetic technology among the other humans among the stars, perhaps the life we’d meet out there, that came from Earth, would be very much unlike anything on our planet.
- Earth-Mirroring Extraterrestrial: Similar to point 1, the difference would be that God as the designer of life, whether directly or providentially, could form life in such a way that living creatures very much like animals we know are living on other planets, without being direct descendants of Earth creatures. This could include a wide variety of intelligent aliens, which may resemble very much life on our planet. Say intelligent bears, octopuses, or wolves. (Hard science fiction might allow some parallelism of alien species with life on Earth–but this view could allow extraterrestrial life to be exactly the same or very similar for plausible reasons.)
- Sterile Universe: Other than our planet, science fiction could portray a vast array of alien worlds without any life at all. Stories of exploration of outer space would assume it’s a hostile environment. Stories would center around disputes among humans and efforts to colonize life from Earth on other planets.
- Evolution As Per Alien Worlds: Likewise, while not every Christian writer would choose to do so, it’s possible to see evolution as having a role intended (or at least permitted) by God. That God designed liquid water with the ability to sustain life wherever it is and that He either providentially or directly created cells on each water world and allowed or directed changes over time in that life which matched local conditions as per Alien Worlds. That is, life that would be in many ways strange to us, but would still be familiar in certain ways as well.
- Evolution Unlike Alien Worlds: Belief in God as the Creator of life means God in an act of creativity could have formed life totally unlike our own. Perhaps life based on silicon, or life that lives in liquid methane instead of liquid water, or life that thrives in plasma, etc. Christian imaginers of worlds can give reasons why such creatures could exist and develop over time, either providentially or directly, because God’s creativity surpasses what we already know about.
- Blatantly Designed Life: Life on Earth shows many signs of design–even the simplest cells are tremendously complex. While I am very skeptical that abiogenesis could happen (and you should be skeptical about it, too!) if it did happen, it would require the universe to produce an incredibly precise set of circumstances–that is, the universe itself would have to be fine-tuned to produce life in any possible scenario. Still, once life got going, the case that life evolved over time is much simpler to make–the mechanism of life could well be clever enough that a design feature would allow life to change species…though such changes could also be guided with direct intervention from God. But what if there was a planet in which it was clearly obvious there were no rudimentary or intermediate steps? Say a planet without bacteria? A planet were all life is multicellular? Or a planet with a very limited number of species, which never change? Or, life that changes over time due to sexual selection, but for which there is no population pressure because new births exactly match deaths? The producers of Alien Worlds would write this off as unrealistic, but if we believe in an inventive Creator God, then we can expect surprises in alien life. Including life for which the case for Darwinism can’t be made at any level.
In short, the worldview underpinning Alien Worlds isn’t the only way to look at things–even people who support an atheistic view of the origin of the universe may not agree with the assumptions this miniseries reflects. But as Christians interested in hard science fiction or at least in being scientifically plausible, the concept of an actively creative God, whose work science hasn’t ever been able to anticipate with certainty, opens up many possible story worlds. A creative God gives us more options, not less.
I listed six possibilities, including mirroring what’s in Alien Worlds (though of course with a different moral meaning). There’s probably possibilities I didn’t think of. What kind of story do you favor that takes an approach unlike that of Alien Worlds? Either what you’ve read or what you’d write.
Do you agree or disagree that a Biblical worldview actually expands imaginative possibilities for story worlds and world-building rather than restricts them? What other thoughts would you like to share?
Documentaries definitely can’t be taken as the gospel truth, anyway. A lot of them seem to sensationalize things. Or they might be really old, or the writers simply made mistakes while making them.
I don’t see why an atheist writing hard science fiction couldn’t write a Sterile Universe scenario. They could like the idea and decide to write what they think such a universe would be like based on current scientific knowledge. Or they themselves believe the universe is sterile and write accordingly.
I THINK Jessi L Roberts at least partially writes some of the Christian Fiction scifi scenarios you talked about, at least in terms of how her storyverse originated. Not sure how much it shows up in her published works yet, but she’s talked about it a bit in blog posts and such and it will probably come into her stories at least later.
As for my writing…I approach this stuff in a variety of ways. The most consistent thing is probably that I tend to maintain a disparity between the reality of the storyverse and the way the chars perceive it. The storyverse may have been created by a monotheistic deity, but that doesn’t mean the chars are aware of him or believe in him. It all just depends on their personality and circumstances. And if I’m writing that char’s perspective, I keep things deeply rooted in how the universe would look through their eyes. So if I’m writing an atheist char, the storyuniverse might look like it lacks deities because of course the char would have reasons for believing the way he does. But if there’s a religious char, the readers will see everything from that perspective. So it’s kind of like real life in that the universe is a certain way, but everyone has deeply rooted reasons for having their own perspective on it. And my chars tend to really struggle with stuff, so it’s not usually like stories where the main char has a similar perspective as the author and doesn’t have truly significant challenges to their beliefs.
Hi Autumn, thanks for your comment.
As for atheists writing a sterile universe, I suppose they could, but I have never known any who would want to. The idea that life isn’t special and Earth isn’t special simply looms too large in the atheist worldview. Though some do think intelligent life is rare and some science fiction has been written from that perspective. Even the Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov postulated human beings as the only intelligent species in our galaxy. Asimov did this for storytelling reasons, because he wanted to parallel the Roman Empire, but still, it wasn’t unthinkable for him that we really might be the only form of intelligent life. But to say there aren’t even any bacteria outside our world? I’ve never, ever heard of an atheist proposing that.
Jessi is a friend of mine and I’ve read a bit of her work, but nothing close to all. Interesting to know her ideas may parallel some of the things I’ve suggested.
As far as how you portray a universe, of course different characters are going to see things differently. But what I’m saying is a writer can choose the actual circumstances of the story with a certain idea in mind. Then of course the characters will perceive that reality in various ways. But some situations are more difficult to perceive ambiguously than others…
Great analysis T-1! I have one last episode to finish the series, but thus far agree with your critique. I believe in a God of abundance, including in story ideas and permission to explore concepts through our story telling, so I agree these concepts should open our minds to new opportunities. For me, it’s the internal resistance that I must fight against (“Oh, a reader would never want to read a story about ____…they would be dismissive of my premise…”)
I’m rewatching Prometheus and enjoy the exercise of thinking “What if?” What if a world was seeded from an intelligent race or designer? The movie takes a different worldview, but as a consumer of the story, it’s still enjoyable for me to have that exercise go on.
T2, yeah, it’s interesting how I think about story telling…I think a Christian’s ability to create story worlds and explore concepts should in theory greatly exceed what the so-called “secular” world does. In practice, that isn’t really so, but could well be.
But on the other hand, there are certain plot lines and patterns of character behavior I think Christians should avoid. Erotica is an obvious example, but there many other plot and character types someone could potentially write that I think Christians should not be writing. So in some ways we are freer, in other ways, not as free.
As for Prometheus, yeah, Ridley Scott clearly was attacking the ideas behind Intelligent Design with that movie…which was interesting and enjoyable to a degree. But also failed to make basic sense at times. We Christian writers can do what Scott did, far, far better. But so far, most Christians I know writing sci fi are doing space opera…(with a few exceptions I really enjoy, in particular Lelia Rose Foreman and Kerry Nietz…)
I just saw your response to my peyote comment on last week’s post, but it wouldn’t let me reply. TL;DR: my peyote comment was meant as an if/then statement (and a sarcastic one): if religious experience is the same thing as an emotional high, peyote is a more reliable source than reading the same material over and over again.
But moving onto the current post: obligatory “ugh, y u even bother being a literalist.”
One thing that I no longer understand (if I ever did) is why Creationists get all het up over the idea that Earth may not be special. Why is this important? This sounds like some pre-Copernican bull hockey that involves more ego than facts.
sh*tpost containing funfacts about dna: https://botanyshitposts.tumblr.com/post/171203331889/one-of-the-most-important-things-ive-learned-from
bonus unrelated sh*tposts: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/611152611931156792/; https://www.pinterest.com/pin/611152611926779847/
Ach, Notleia’s being a ding-dong again…
Look, I desire to show kindness to you, but you say some uber-dumb stuff from my perspective. Or perhaps simply evil stuff, not really dumb as much as malignant.
As far as knowing God, it’s not all about the high. It’s about purpose and communication and sometimes a high. Again, if you have no idea what I’m talking about, I doubt you are in fact identifiable as a Christian or ever were. Besides, doesn’t a hallucinagentic like peyote sometimes give “bad trips”? So, no, no, no, and some more “no” on your sarcastic snippet on peyote…
As far as being literal, again, most people are literal most of the time. Scientists discussing the universe are usually literal, though they on occasion use metaphor to explain their points. Being literal is in short /normal/ and God knows that and would encode most but not all of the Bible to be read in a literal way. Also because being literal, coupled with knowledge of ancient languages and history, allows a student of the Bible (such as myself) to objectively analyze what really is and really is not part of the Christian faith. It’s a powerful tool–and in my mind makes the Bible far more useful than some kind of mushy-gushy-the-Bible-inspires-me-but-isn’t-literal crap… 🙂
For alternate forms of life: How about an anime where clothes are sentient and domesticated humans as livestock and food? It also has awesome music, and it’s hilarious. It does have a TON of (TV-legal) nudity and PG-13 language where they’re allowed about 1 s-bomb per episode but no f-bombs. Also Mako is #bestgirl, and I will fight you on that.
Additional opinions, Autumn, Audie?
Welp, intelligent clothes certainly is a creative idea. Though also one rather hard to justify as making any kind of sense. Which brings to my mind the tension between creativity and a desire to be rational. I think I walk both sides of that line, but there definitely are creative ideas I come up with that my rational brain goes–“Er, no, that’s dumb. Don’t write that.”
Intelligent clothes is the kind of thing my brain would have thought of–but then also ruled out as too weird to actually do…
Does it help that it’s a comedy? The characters act pretty seriously within the context, but the context is building a plot to justify stupid bikini battle armor, and I think Studio Trigger handled it very well. Also the underground resistance society is named Nudist Beach, which is entirely thematically appropriate but still heckin funny because of the absurdity.
I guess I like absurd comedy. Maybe it’s a generational thing.
Yeah, sure, that it’s comedy helps. And perhaps I came across harsher than I meant. All I was saying is I probably would not have come up with that particular story idea myself. Not because I wouldn’t think of it, but because of self-editing.
If you like it, you like it. Clearly I would object to the nudity, but obviously you don’t hold to the same positions I do on that topic, so…
Let’s see if this posts in the correct position.
Likewise, I also regard you with a certain amount of “bless your heart.” The crux of my peyote comment was on whether a religious experience is the same thing as an emotional high. I’ve had emotional highs during churchy services, but IDK if that’s supposed to be the same thing as a religious experience. It’s mostly a semantics thing.
Burnett (and probably others here) already thinks I’m not a Real, True Christian(TM) because I don’t toe the Calvinist line, so I think it’s funny that you also gatekeep me out from the other side based on charismatic flavored principles about personal religious experiences.
Most of my questions about literalism itself are just rhetorical, because I was raised in the bubble and I know all the catechism (that I no longer find satisfying). My actual questions are mostly about how you, a person who wasn’t raised in the bubble, came to be into literalism and where your specific borders are (6-day Creationist vs Intelligent Design, why you seem to agree with Earth-centrism or at least don’t dismiss it, etc). My guess is that in the beginning of your turn for the Serious, that someone convinced you that Christianity is a deck of cards resting on literalism. Y/N?
I never grew up saying “bless your heart,” since I’m not Southern, but I do get the reference…ok, whatever.
As for personal religious experiences, hey, this is been around in American Christianity since at least the First Great Awakening in the mid 1700s and a no less a Calvinist than Jonathan Edwards would agree with me that an individual Christian should have an individual experience of God–which isn’t at all the same as “I was at this Christian concert and I felt really amazing this one time.” I no doubt will attempt to explain what it means to know God at some other time–since, after all, your soul is on the line from my point of view. But for now, I’ll simply mention the issue without addressing it in detail.
As for literalism, let me give you a tongue-in-cheek rendering of what the reason I’m that way isn’t: It isn’t because I’m right that communication is ordinarily literal–heaven forbid that I would be right about that. Nor could I be correct in thinking God would want to talk to ordinary people speaking mostly literally–no, God clearly is only interested in talking to those with literature degrees, who can truly appreciate a metaphor. Nor can it possibly be that I’m fluent in multiple languages, including a reading knowledge of Greek and Hebrew, and actually understand issues of language usage better than most people who only speak one language–no, clearly that’s not it. Nor could it be that I’ve studied the history of the Bible and Bible interpretation and find the period in which symbolic reading of the Bible was common to be a mess that produced a number of weird and false notions (Augustine himself, by the way, said symbolic meanings of the Bible are fine, but the primary reading should be literal–lest you think literalism is a Funda/evaga/calva/charismatic principle)–no, no, clearly not. Nor could it be that I do allow for a number of metaphorical and poetic readings when those are appropriate, but back away from them when literalism is better. No that can’t be it, because literalism is actually /never/ better (because, you know, a bunch of people you respect said so).
So clearly I have some kind of pathology that pulls me in the direction of Biblical literalism, as opposed to having a good reason for it. Whereas you, enlightened and noble one, have found the ultimate complete and total truth–without even wasting your time with all that boring studying stuff that I’ve blown decades on .
(You should be happy with my answer–you’re inspiring me to learn what’s for me a new language–Snark. Though of course, you are more fluent in Snark that me…please excuse any awkwardness I may show in my Snark usage or grammar… 🙂 )
You laid out some very interesting points, some of which have crossed my mind but I’ve not put into words. I really appreciate your ideas, backed by truth, that spark further good ideas. Chris Williams The Lamb Among the Stars series, about a star-faring Christian civilization facing their nemesis on several fronts, reflects your point 1.
For a long time I’ve wanted to write (or see written, so I could read it) a series similar to McCaffrey’s Pern series, since I enjoy dragons, space, and fantasy. To frame the fascination and strength of intentional design is definitely something to aspire too. Do you know of anyone who’s attempted something in the same vein as the Pern series from a Christian perspective?
I very much agree that a Christian has many more avenues to creativity concerning ideas and stories. Since evolution is unintentional and aimless and chaotic, a logical product of that would be stories that could not imagine anything purposeful, while everything we see as Christians is designed specifically, with powerful intent that gets the intended job done. Purpose is at the back of everything we are and do. We can go at writing, or anything else, with meaning and intention, which fits reality – the reality we breathe in – and the sub-created reality of our stories.
If I get the chance, I’d love to start a multi-author project on a series that involves a world that runs with your idea 2, with multiple cultures and dragons, hot-blooded and cold, all involved in the same fight we have between good and evil. Thanks Travis, I appreciate your thoughts, and your taking the time to stir our minds.
Thanks for your kind comment. And if you get to the point of doing the multi-author project you propose, please mention it to me. I might like to join you!
I’ve just started an excell sheet of interested authors, and put you on it. It is just an idea at this point. Lord willing!
IDK why this new comments software won’t let me nest comments properly, but here I go anyway with another reply to Travis.
I will allow you your special-pleading opinions about literalism (generous of me, I know /s), but bruh, I don’t think you’re as widely read as you think you are. It’s fine that your reading is deep but narrow, but I don’t think it puts you in a position to lecture me about the uses and functions of historical narratives or even our tangents about language.
Nesting has been messed up to be sure…
As for lecturing you about language, what at times irks me is you don’t even bother to offer a coherent answer to my rational arguments (such as the argument that language is normally literal, concerning which you offered no reply). You just keep assuming I’m pathological, without explaining yourself in detail or even referencing any serious works you may have read you would like to recommend that I read to enlighten me on a topic if it really is true you know something I don’t. Nope, it’s all memes and of-course-I’m-right-and-you’re-wrong attitude. No evidence, no explanation. Just attitude.
As far as being extemely broadly read, it’s fair to say I’m selective about what I read and in fact at times am unaware of things I should know. But I’ve read quite a lot on the topic of approaches to understanding the Bible and can’t think of a single time you raised an issue of Bible interpretation I hadn’t already heard it…and I often reference matters you seem to know nothing about, such as Bible language linguistic history. And, when I present such information, you seem to simply ignore it. So, I really have no evidence you know something I don’t on the topic of understanding the Bible. Though I’m open to you showing me something I haven’t heard before…but you haven’t ever done so as of yet. In fact, it doesn’t really even seem you are trying. You just act as if you have far superior knowledge–which you back up with nothing or very little, repeatedly–which eventually gets annoying.
I suppose I should be so infintely patient that I tolerate your lack-of-data-but-smug attitude without showing any emotion–or I perhaps I should be wise enough simply not to engage you, which is what E. Stephen Burnett does with 99+ percent of the things you say. So there’s plenty in me to fault throughout our long-running debate concerning the nature of the Bible–but my faults don’t include me not having studied the topic.
I’m having trouble responding to comments through the reply button as well.
Lol, well, I never knew that Kill La Kill(I’m guessing?) was about that. That does sound like a funny and unique concept. I did chuckle when I read your initial hook describing the show. Not sure that I’d ever feel like watching it, but somehow knowing that such a crazy and absurd story concept exists gives me joy.
It is actually pretty awesome when someone takes an idea that sounds absurd or hard to take serious and actually finds a way to make it cool and/or plausible. I wouldn’t necessarily like every show that does that, but some of them can be unexpectantly neat.
I don’t respond to your questions about literal language because the issue isn’t textual, but metatextual (tho there are clues about the meta within the text itself).
Would you really read other ancient texts as being literal because of their wording, even in the original Greek? Do you read the Iliad or the Aeneid as being factual, up to and including Laocoon or ‘eating their tables?’ Do you read George Washington and the cherry tree as being factual?
Well, I’m willing to imagine you thought the case with me was so hopeless you didn’t bother to respond–though such a position would be quite conceited of you. I mean, why would you actually think I would have no knowledge of or interest in metatextual issues? Arrogance is the only answer that comes to my mind, though feel free to offer another if you can.
Though I shouldn’t complain too much, because you have actually said something here I can respond to. An actual defense of your ideas, instead of a slice of attitude. First, I said being literal is the way language is ordinarily used (I didn’t say the only way). And, if you want to challenge that, please do, but the examples you used to seem to concede the point. Language IS ordinarily literal, but what about language in story, especially stories of national origin, is it literal there?
Of course language in stories is often not literal. Epic poems are often not literal in particular (or better said “not literally true”). Though Chanson de Roland and El Cantar del Mio Cid qualify as embellished history. Yeah, there really was a battle between Muslim and Christian warriors along the Pyrenees Mountains in the timeframe of Roland, though no evidence (as far as I last heard anyway) exists that Roland really was one of the Christian warriors and the battle went exactly as the poem describes–still the basic outline is true. Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, a.k.a. El Cid, is recorded in history well enough that we know the epic poem of Spain is largely historical, though embellished.
The Iliad is more linked to the misty past that even Chanson de Roland, but it seems even so the basic outline of the story stems from truth. Mycenean Greeks waged war against non-Greeks at a location that matches the location of Troy in the poem and destroyed it. Reasons are unknown and obviously the epic poem contains lots of made-up details, but it isn’t totally non-historical.
The Aeneid, on the other hand, documents a movement of people from Troy to early Rome that has no collaboration in archaeology or genetics. And we know the reason why it was written, even though it has no basis in reality–because the Romans admired the Greeks so much, they wanted a story of their own to connect with the Greek tales they’d come to love. So, not real at all. (Like the Book of Mormon.)
Ok, so is the Bible epic poetry? No. It doesn’t even read like epic poetry–Bible poetry is mostly in works of wisdom and in songs. There are sprinkles of poetry elsewhere–and while I love Bible prose and think Hebrew is a beautiful language, Abraham’s herdsmen getting in a petty quarrel with Lot’s herdsmen (Gen 13) is unlike anyone’s epic story anywhere in the world as far as I know–though it really is a lot like a lot of real accounts of shepherds.
Either the Bible was going for some kind of epic of the mundane or it really is recording facts an ancient people thought were important but nobody intended to be a moving story. Like the ending chapters of the “epic” of Joshua laying out a series of land divisions. Can you imagine the Iliad or El Cid or Roland giving chapter after chapter of property boundaries? And while genealogies of your main characters might find a place in an epic tale, some of them anyway, why in the world would anyone list genealogies of people who are not main heroes, like the decedents of Edom (Gen 36)? Except of course, some scribe had this record and thought it was important to capture this bit of data because it helps explain something important (in the case of Gen 36, the chain of rulers of Edom, a real and neighboring people, until the Israelites conquered them).
While the accounts of David really do read differently, more like a story, and to a lesser degree Solomon is story-like, the pattern of Kings and Chronicles falls into a predictable means of laying out history. Such and such a king began to rule at a certain age, ruled a certain number of years, was good or bad, these were the main events of his life, then he died. It reads like a Medieval chronicle, say the Primary Chronicle of Russia, a style that contains events more recent to our times and which are, in spite of errors at times, generally accurate and trustworthy. AND the general outline of kings of Israel and Judah starts getting confirmed by Assyrian records around the time of Omri, father of the well-known Ahab, husband of Jezebel. The further on we go from Omri, the more and more details are confirmed by Assyrian and at times Egyptian or Persian records and by archaeology, especially concerning the reign of the Biblical king Hezekiah. But you know what, the kings listed earlier than when we have confirmation read quite a lot like the accounts after confirmation. So why should we think the confirmed accounts are real, but earlier reports written in the same style are fictional? It’s strange to think that way. It’s more sensible to think the whole thing was written in a realistic style, because of reflecting real events. Some of which lack confirmation as of now, but likely will be eventually confirmed.
The closest the Bible gets to the style of an epic poem al-la Greek epic tales is Samson. Samson really could be seen as a Biblical equivalent of Heracles. But even Samson is so restricted and tame compared to Greek myths. Samson kills 1,000 Philistines, but the place he’s said to do so is a narrow valley, where only a few could come at him at a time–heck, I might be able to kill at least a few, maybe up to a dozen, with a donkey’s jawbone in that spot, due to my larger size than ancient Philistines. The main limitation for me would be getting tired (and maybe inexperience with ancient weapons). So a superhuman moment–but not impossible. Likewise Samson’s pushing apart a pair of pillars or carrying a city gate twenty miles–these are things an elephant or maybe a polar bear could do. While Heracles literally puts the whole world on his back in his greatest feat of strength, which is literally impossible for anyone or anything to perform. The first calls for a miracle and claims the miracle was real–the second is just a story, with non-literal meaning to be sure, but in the end, something someone invented.
And Beowulf fights Grendel and a dragon…whereas Samson fought, yeah, real people for whom we have archaeological evidence. Samson, even if someone were to say the account is fiction, is fiction much more like Roland or El Cid than it is like the Iliad or Aeneid.
Likewise feel free to compare any Bible account to any account from anyone’s mythology. I know of zero cases in which the Bible isn’t more sober, more matter of fact, more concerned with mundane details that nobody else cares about–except in events really happening (or at least supposed to have happened). Genesis 1, even, commonly compared to the Babylonian creation myth (and there certainly are parallels) shows the Bible being more sober and realistic and, well, monotheistic.
Such meta issues have caused critics to suggest the Bible surely must be composed later as an overall work, during the Persian period…except the linguistic data doesn’t indicate that hypothesis is true. The Bible in fact reads like people who believed they were recording actual events for the purpose of explaining the world around them, not telling a story. And they wrote their first bits before the Greeks ever knew what an alphabet was. Now, you can say they were wrong about their details, but it makes no sense to say they knew they were making up stories, in the style of epic poetry.
Deliberately making up stories came later in Judaism.
And of course, the New Testament writers take the Old Testament accounts not just seriously, but literally. When Paul in Romans talks about human sin beginning in Adam’s rebellion, there’s not one hint he imagined Adam was not real. Of course, you can say as a cynic that Paul didn’t know what he was talking about–that Jesus (when talking about marriage) didn’t know, either. But for a Christian, these texts have meaning–accepting any of it as true means taking the priorities of Paul and Jesus seriously–and they clearly believed in the literal reality of Bible events. Of course, with exceptions for poetry (e.g. rocks don’t have to literally cry out for Jesus’s point to stand, Luke 19:40) and the symbolism of apocalyptic literature and prophecy (the woman in Revelation 12 is better seen as a symbol of Israel than a literal woman).
My most important point was the idea that God wants to use the Bible as a means to communicate with humans–most ordinary communication is literal. Yes, there’s a place for metaphor and hyperbole and literary figures in the communication of the Bible. But most is literal and direct. Because God knows his audience–and most humans are literal most of the time. (Even you, I suspect).
Of course if there is no God or God doesn’t communicate with humans at all or at least not through the Bible, you are stuck trying to explain away the “magical realism” of Samson and the Exodus and every other miracle in the Bible. But, I’m willing to believe in a world beyond our own, an amazing and miracle-working God, and that the sober and realistic style of the Bible reflects what it is actually trying to convey…that is, information about real people of long ago who did real things, including real encounters with God.
There’s plenty more I could say, but that’s enough for now.
It’s nice that you’re willing to accept some accounts as being embellished, Samson, David (I’ve linked an article before re: Shamgar and David), or Solomon, but what about others? There is no evidence that the Moses story is factual. Probably all the judge stories that are longer than a sentence (and maybe some of those) are embellished (tho part of me wants the Ehud story to be real because that’s some trickster hero stuff right there). Joshua and the conquest? The grain of truth in that one is probably only the theme of conflict between an agrarian culture and a herding-nomadic culture.
I’ve heard that bit about the Christian Bible being boring compared to other culture’s stories, but I want some citations on that. I’m sure Egyptologists could furnish some boring ritual descriptions similar to the Pentateuch. I’ve read some Mesopotamian religious poetry (Sumerian IIRC) that reads something like Song of Songs (in a word, weirdly kinky). I’ve read articles I can’t remember comparing some Psalms to similar Greek(?) poetry.
I’m sure they could give us some boring genealogies, too, but there’s no reason genealogies can’t be fabricated or massaged for political reasons. (Bonus linky: https://isthatinthebible.wordpress.com/2014/10/15/lukes-genealogy-compared-with-matthew-and-the-old-testament/)
So basically, I see a lot of motivated reasoning in your accepting the whole hog along with the tiny grains that can be verified (bad metaphor, but I’m going with it.) Maybe Paul did believe in a literal Adam and Eve. So what? Did any of the Egyptians earnestly believing their pharaoh to be a son of Horus make it factually true? Are they stupid because of that? (I, for one, do not necessarily believe that piety is stupid, believe it or not. Or at least no more stupid than most of human behavior. But I probably don’t define piety the same way you do.) (In any case, cognitive dissonance is helluva drug. Plenty of otherwise smart people hold wrong or superstitious beliefs.)
Let’s be clear that I am willing to accept some accounts read as if they were embellished. Though I have had real events in my own life that when I told the story, I have had certain people believe I was embellishing, but I was not. Sometimes reality sounds embellished–and I believe the Bible is factual even in stories that sound exaggerated. But I can understand for certain accounts in the Bible why someone might conclude they sound embellished (and sometimes, on occasion, the Bible actually does use hyperbole as a literary device in non-poetic text–but it’s rare).
However, many accounts in the Bible are extremely matter-of-fact and don’t sound embellished at all. Again, good luck finding property boundaries within the body of an account of national origin for anyone else–lots of elements of the Bible are not stories of any kind, but factual or legal records, there for the sole purpose of somebody in the past needing to have that information. And many stories also make sense as they are written and show no sign within the account of embellishment. For example the Ehud account, which you mentioned, is full of realistic details that are easiest to know from actually stabbing a person and getting away with it. Ehud stabbed the obese king of Moab in the gut and lost his short sword there. He would have been caught, but he pierced the large intestine, and poop was coming out of the king’s body, and so his servants thought he was taking a crap and didn’t enter his chamber–while Ehud escaped. The medical details are all correct–who in the world wrote fiction like that thousands of years ago? (Nobody I know of–and I’ve read Near Eastern lit.) Probably all the stories are embellished in Judges? Based on what would make you say that? There’s no reason to think of the account of Ehud as embellished, because every detail is realistic (and Ehud isn’t actually much like the trickster archetype–he benefited from dumb luck–and his escape isn’t even directly mentioned, which would never be omitted from a fictional story of a trickster). It’s actually an anti-Bible bias, or anti-Bible being real bias that would cause someone to say the story of Ehud is embellished. It doesn’t read like it is.
As far as citations go in comparative literature, to get a citation I would have to find a scholar who says it’s true–as opposed to reading ancient literature myself and knowing that Gilgamesh fights the winged bull of heaven and Canaanite mythology is full of the gods fighting each other, similar to Greek myth, as is Egyptian mythology. That fake geneologies really do exist, but of kings and important people, but not of minor-people-we-conquered, not outside the Bible. So I know myself from having read enough ancient literature to know what it contains (the body of ancient literature grows some over time with new discoveries, but overall is limited and knowable). You can do the same–go to the direct sources, instead of some so-called Bible scholar telling you what to think. Get your own opinion from the source material, then go back to the scholars for comparison to see if you’ve overlooked something. Don’t derive your opinion from someone handing down thoughts from on high.
As for parallels in the Bible to other ancient literature, they do exist. Song of Songs does have parallels, as do most of the wise sayings of the Bible and many of the Psalms. The Old Testament law has parallels in Hittite and Mesopotamian and Egyptian law–though Hebrew law isn’t exactly the same as any of them and in particular has distinct holidays that only the Hebrews had. But the narrative portions of the Old Testament are unlike the mythologies of their day–though there are accounts of real events captured in some ancient literature that show parallels with the writing style of the Bible.
As for the conquest of Canaan and Exodus, there’s a whole layer of destruction that some archeologists who are not religious believers link to invading Israelites. Egyptian cities mentioned in the Bible are real. The Egyptian Tell el-Amarna letters mention Canaanite vassal states asking for help against invading “Haipru” (help which did not come). The name “Moses” matches an Egyptian name suffix as in “Thutmose,” showing the name is Egyptian, but the Bible offers a Hebrew etymology of the name, as if not knowing the Egyptian origin and making a didactic point with Moses’s name…which means they did not fake an Egyptian name. “Moses” is authentically Egyptian.
Back in the time of Exodus it’s fair to say there are tiny grains supporting the Bible account which are insufficient in and of themselves. It is fair to say that there’s an element of faith in believing the Exodus happened–but there is evidence it happened too, and anyone who says there is no evidence is lying or ignorant of the facts. (The biggest thing missing is Egyptian records confirming the Exodus happened–though the Eyptians at other times ommited information about invasions and defeats that made them look bad, such as the Assyrian invasion of Egypt in the 7th Century B.C.)
Now, at the time of Hezekiah, which I mentioned, every major detail recorded about Hezekiah have been confirmed. We have evidence of battles against Assyrians, a conspiracy with Egypt, preparations for battle by storage jars with royals seals and new wall construction and a tunnel dug under Jerusalem to provide water, evidence of religious reforms via a layer of destruction of Pagan shrines including some converted into toilets, and we have a copy of a seal labled “belonging to the prophet Isaiah.” The battle of Lachish, mentioned in the Bible and the site of an archeological dig, was portrayed on the walls of Nineveh and the campaign of the Assyrians against the Egyptians (and Judeans) is mentioned by Herotodus, the Greek historian. We have plenty of extra-Biblical data confirming all the main historical events of Hezekiah’s time. And his account reads no differently than the accounts of early kings for whom we have no confimation (such as Rehaboam). In this, I am not hanging onto grains that are confirmed. I am proposing what makes the most sense–the simplest explanation is that all of Kings should be taken seriously as history, at least “likely true.” The fact the simplest explanation isn’t accepted by many people reveals an anti-Bible bias. I assure you, such a thing exists.
I have read an ancient historian who claims Jesus Christ did not exist–he’s pretty alone in that, almost all historians agree that Christ existed. But he employs the reasoning that doing miracles is legendary and legendary figures cannot be taken as really existing without extraordinary evidence–so the kind of evidence you’d take to believe Julius Ceasar existed, that would not be good enough…because Jesus was legendary. By creating this category and raising the bar for proof, this historian with a straight face can maintain there’s no evidence Jesus existed. And of course the evidence for Jesus existing is better than loads of historical figures, better than for Socrates, for example. Though not as good as for someone we actually have the body of, like many Egyptian pharaohs.
There are people applying the same kind of reasoning, albeit not so blatantly, to many Bible accounts. Exodus mentions a miracle at the Red Sea and miracles don’t happen, so it can’t be that the account is true. Since the account is legendary, the reasoning goes, when did the legend develop? Etc. But if miracles are possible, the reasoning employed is tainted from the beginning.
Believing a miracle is possible is easily derived from an honest look at the world around us. I have studied in detail the claims the universe created itself and have found such claims wanting. If the universe did not create itself, then every single thing is a miracle in the way–that isn’t magical thinking per se. It’s looking for and finding the meta truth in the world around us and not believing the snarky critics just because they are smarter than the religious idiots you once knew.
@Travis more bonus linky: https://isthatinthebible.wordpress.com/2017/12/11/on-the-plausibility-and-purpose-of-pauls-sea-voyage-in-acts-27/
Hey, here’s some evidence the scholar you like to quote isn’t very good with basic reasoning. He said: “It appears that Luke, unlike Matthew, was not familiar with Chronicles.” This is a tiresomely dumb comment. Nobody who would have attempted to write a Bible book would be unfamilar with Chronicles–it’s very well-known. Duh. Also, while his comment about invented geneologies certainly is true, it was not true for people writing about folks they saw as unimportant to the story (or themselves) which goes with my mention of Genesis 36.
Note the commonest explanation for the difference between Luke’s and Matthew’s geneologies is the Matthew gave Joseph’s line but Luke gave Mary’s…or perhaps Joseph’s maternal line. Your favorite scholar doesn’t have to buy that theory, but he doesn’t even mention it. For him, it’s worthy of hand-waving dismissal–or he doesn’t know it. Either way, his brilliance isn’t as brilliant as he (or you) thinks it is.
Matthew’s arrangement obviously skips generations to get a numerical balance–but that was perfectly fine for people who considered all descendants to be sons. I.e. Jacob is the son of Abraham as well as the grandson, in Hebrew thought. Also the comment about tribal names not being individual names is actually based on something as I take a look at the situation. However, the case is far from proven.
The only interesting thing really was the number 77 and the near repetition of names. It could be an omission of people was deliberately made to arrive at 77. This would be considered a legit thing to do (and is something I’ve heard said before about this geneology). And the near repetition of names is semi-interesting, until you’ve met actual people from the Middle East in which grandsons or greatgrandsons are deliberately named after ancestors, so patterns of names wind up repeating for real. In fact, you might expect a real geneology to repeat even more–whereas a made up geneology will make every name unique. (Which is like how real random numbers will repeat sometimes, but a made up list of random numbers hardly ever repeats.)
Anyway, the analysis of geneology was deficient enough, but the take on Paul’s voyage was ludicrous almost from the beginning. Most historians take the voyage to be literal. At one time descriptions of the size of the ship were seen as exaggerated, but archaelogy has found ships of this size and even larger.
The questioning of details as accurate runs along the lines of people questioning real events in my own life: “For some reason, the crew’s refusal to eat prompts Paul to deliver an address, somehow, over the howling of the wind and the rocking of the ship, as if he were at the Areopagus” as if, in a strong wind it’s impossible to shout out a message that a number of people would hear and some would repeat. Or that simple hyperbole of people not eating for 14 days being in fact people didn’t eat full meals, which is not understood by the author of this piece. Or that in any real storm of this type, keeping an exact count of the days of the storm would be very difficult, so that it might have been more that 14 days to Malta. Or that sailors could have reasons not presented in the narrative for trying to escape the ship–in real life things happen that the narrator doesn’t know why, though in fiction, a writer always knows. Or that on Malta, the notion that nobody would understand them, because there would be nobody who speaks Greek or among passangers and crew in the hundreds there would be nobody who spoke Punic and the act of translation was simply skipped in telling what happened because it was an unimportant detail (and accounted for in the word “barbaroi” which your gent mentions, then misunderstands). Duh. Overall, this guy is not in fact a moron–though at times he seems like one to me. What he really is suffering from is a high degree of anti-Bible bias, which causes him to ignore the simplest and most logical explanations and go searching far afield for weird illogical things to say. Like really, nobody on Malta would speak Greek, because the Island spoke Punic?–and we would know that, but an ancient writer would get that factoid wrong? Are you kidding me? What a joke. (Apparently this guy doesn’t realize people speaking foreign languages isn’t totally uncommon in places outside the United States).
What you’ve shown me of this gentleman is not worthy of your admiration. He makes basic mistakes in reasoning. Repeatedly.
@Travis: mooooootivated reasoning. It’s equivocation to pretend that your literalism bias and “anti-Bible bias” have equal weights.
Hmmm, well, your quoted Bible scholar can’t reason well enough to realize being biligual was common in the ancient world. Versus me admitting when elements of history supporting my case are not the best, as in the case of the Exodus. Though I still quote what history there is, I also admit when the history is insufficient.
As for telling you about how Hezekiah is established history in all the broad strokes, I’m simply telling the truth. Again, telling the truth when saying most historians take Paul’s sea voyage literally. I’m not lying to you–part of my motivated reasoning, and I am indeed motivated, is I’m motivated to concede every single point that skeptics justly deserve, to be sure I know the truth and admit the truth. Because how can you believe my testimony of Christ if I am not a truth-teller? But of course I conceed no more than those points that make sense–I am not about to say Jesus was fictional because an Oxford grad historian said so, because the idea is dumb and requires treating Jesus differently than every other historical figure of his period. Could it be that I don’t give skeptics credit at times when they deserve it? It could be, at times–but I’ve changed things I think many times when looking at what skeptics say. So I am in fact listening to them. I have no doubts about that. (Nor should you.)
Now, as for your much-esteemed-scholar, this “genius,” in the articles you linked that I read (I hope for your sake other articles he wrote are better), hasn’t been able to figure out that a New Testament prohibition against worshipping angels and a reference to angel-worship as aberrant probably indicates angel worship was never part of mainstream Christianity. Nor has this bright lightbulb been able to recognize that everybody able to read would have read Chronicles if they were interested enough in the Bible to write a Bible book. Or that “not eating” can mean “not eating full meals” as opposed to “not eating at all.” Or, again, because it’s just so symbolic of the overall problem, that an island within the Roman Empire might have some biligual people living there who could and would interpret. (How do you explain the complete lack of reasoning on these points?)
It seems to me that “anti-Bible bias” makes people say completely ridiculous things, at least at times. Thougn not all skeptics are so completely off-base.
I’m saying one thing that could be called “ridiculous”–that God is real and He really intervenes in history. But other than that, I look at what the evidence says. And admit it–so yeah, you’d be a lot better off believing me than your WordPress Wonder–who indeed knows a lot of impressive facts, but again, fails to make basic sense at times when basic sense is easily discernable.
Why would you not believe me? Is it because I’ve offered bad reasoning? No, I don’t think so. But because like most people you are not willing to question your most basic assumptions. You went through a paradigm shift from what you kinda thought was right but never really studied (that the Bible was true) into believing totally different things after study. You are convinced your hard work and getting around smart people justified your change. It would cost you some sense of your pride–not to mention the fact you might be suddenly accountable to God–to realize your step away from literalism was overblown and in fact in many ways unjustified. Most of the new things you learned still apply, though not always in the same way, but not all do. You overshot the truth and need to come back in the direction of where you used to be in order to find it.
This coming back would not cause you to stop studying or thinking or being a scholar. I study, think, and am a scholar (though not a well-known one). Nor would it mean you would wholly agree with me necessarily–it fact you probably would not. But it would mean you would have to say you had been wrong about some things. That you would have to re-evaluate yourself again. And, that the truth you find when continuing to search for it might in fact be uncomfortable in some ways–you might in fact have to change your relationship with God, for example.
Well, bless your heart. I don’t believe you because your reasoning is, in fact, based on faulty premises which include a hella lot of unjustified presumptions. Related to that, I keep forgetting to address your simplest explanation argument, because the simplest explanation is, in fact, that these narratives are overall not factual, despite the little factoids sprinkled within it. After all, one of the purposes of these narratives were also as propaganda, to legitimize it and attract followers, money, and influence amongst the other competing cults of the time.
Also I highly doubt there was anything like “mainstream” Christianity until Constantine adopted it as official in the 4th-whatever century There wasn’t an official Bible until that time. And even nowadays, “mainstream” Christianity is an entirely relative phrase.
I also think you mistake what “historical Jesus” means when coming from historians. “Historical Jesus” does not necessarily equal “Biblical notion of Jesus.” The most that is safest to presume from “historical Jesus” is that there was an apocalyptic preacher dude named Jesus (there were a lot of apocalyptic preachers at this time, and also a lot of dudes named Jesus at this time) who had run-ins with the political authorities. Y’know, like John, but who didn’t get absorbed into the competing cult.
But that’s okay, because value is not the same thing as provenance. I might have some agreement amongst the sort who make the distinction between “capital-t Truth and little-t truth” (which is surprisingly postmodern of them considering their usual opinion of po-mo viewpoints).
Wow, first of all, you apparently have very little idea of what I think, because I am very aware of the range of opinions on Jesus. However, you’d have to be a total moron–or highly biased–to doubt that Jesus ever existed. Yet, there is a total moron, er, highly biased guy, a PhD from Oxford if I recall correctly, who says there was no Jesus. As far as I know, he is totally alone among top historians in his opinion, but the fact he exists tells you something. A bias against the Bible really exists in some circles–though in fact there have been quite a few theologians who wondered if Jesus ever existed. Historians don’t wonder, but some theologians do. Those whose profession is about facts don’t doubt (almost all of them), but people who approach religion much more speculatively do wonder. Hmmm. Now why would that be?
And that hits Paul’s voyage as well–your religious scholar–I’m sure he isn’t any historian, but I don’t know what his background is–feels free to speculate that an account the majority take as real is fictional…not based on the fact it makes no sense, but on little nuggests that seem to be contradictory in a narrative that otherwise makes total sense. And while some of the nuggets do in fact qualify as puzzling, many he raises as contradictions are not difficult to answer and some are just stupid. Again, I’ve thrown down the gauntlet on one particular issue multiple times and you haven’t answered–this guy really asked how could the people know what the Maltese were saying because they didn’t speak Greek. He totally ignored the possibility of biligualism and interpretation, which is a simple and common explanation–which in fact would have to have been true if Malta were part of the Roman Empire (and it was). He seems to be digging around for objections. That’s a bellweather for you–this gent overlooks simple facts and known historical situations in order to grind his theological ax. A red flag should rise in your mind.
As for legitimizing Christianity, “well bless your heart.” Let’s see, to back off repeating your snark to you, actually, propaganda could be a purpose of a religous text. Or it could be the expression of what people really believed. Propaganda would work better if it came from a single source, you know, a central committee to control the message and content–like how the Mormon church operates. Is that how Early Christianity was, with an authoritative pope from day one who tightly controlled the messaging? (Oh, Islam also did that pretty much, too, except for the split in the followers over who would succeed Mohammed…).
How does the historical and scientific data stack up with idea that the New Testament came from a central source? Or that it was not from the First Century, after there was time for major collusion of ideas? Clearly was no central committee on what was or was not Christian, no unified group to put out specific messaging and I think you already know that. You kinda admit so by saying there was no “mainsteam” Christianity. If Christianity was diverse, then it had no unified propaganda. So those two ideas of yours contradict one another. You are closest to being right about the “no mainstream”–there is loads of evidence about tremendous diversity in Early Christianity. However, someone like me can still maintain there was a normanitive or mainstream set of Christian beliefs based on what the New Testament says–and your dude, no kidding, read a prohibition on worshipping angels in the NT as justifying the notion that worshipping angels must have been accepted in general at least at first or at least by someone. “Someone” is in fact true–but the authorities of Christianity disputed that position, all of them who addressed it, repeatedly, according to the records we actually have. So, yeah can I say the idea was not “mainstream” even though the mainstream was still forming. But you’ve got a point there–you are not totally wrong. Just mostly. (It would be a bit like saying prohibitions on murder or adultery are proof that early Christians thought murder or adultery were OK–actually some may have justified such actions, but the overall tenor of the religion didn’t permit that and using prohibitions to “prove” these acts were considered part of the religion is, well, horrible logic.)
So Christiantiy had no central authority until Constantine (and not really for a while after him)–heck, they couldn’t even get the four Gospels to say the exact same thing, which would be the first thing a propaganist would do (note there is only one authorized version of the Quran and only one authorized Book of Mormon). Also, NT manuscripts are the most abundant and most ancient in terms of time of writing in comparison to the oldest copies we have of any other ancient manuscript in the entire world. That’s no exaggeration. So there wasn’t time for opinions to coalesce, especially in a religion that spread around the Roman world (and outside it) very quickly according to archeological evidence.
So it would be bloody hard to write the NT books as propaganda–that explanation fails to be simple and does not match well-established facts. Simpler is people wrote what they believed (which does not in and of itself prove what they wrote was true).
And actually you can think I’m faulty all you want. If you raise a cogent point, I will consider it. I might even change my ideas about some details of history and the Biblical text. I have changed before and likely will again.
But are you open to self-questioning in the same way? Are you able to see that some of your notions self-contradict and you admire a blogger who makes even bigger mistakes than you, mistakes nobody really being objective and thinking through issues carefully would make?
It’s an important topic–God is not ficitonal–and He has expressed himself for real in various ways. Including in the text of the religious work that either providentaly or accidentally is the most widely distributed religious work bar none. If God is the God of all humanity, wouldn’t he want that message to reach everywhere? There’s only one religious work that does that. Either it’s a ridiculous coincidence it does so, or God intended the Bible to do so. There are no other religious works in the same category, not even the Quran.
So if God is real and cares about all of humanity, either He has not expressed Himself directly in any religious work for some unknown reason. Or perhaps vaguely has inspired all religous works, but that would mean we would be simply guessing what parts are from God and what are not–religious works would have no authority on the nature of God, because they contradict too much. OR, God has expressed himself in the Bible…which is also the most historically verified of any of the major religious texts in the world, believe it or not.
Something important is going on here–you should pay attention. Snark is not enough–you should actually consider this issue with at least a pinch of humility. At least a miligram of willingness to see you don’t already know everything and you actually could be wrong about a number of things you believe to be true…