Shallow Theology from the Cheerful Pope

Com’on, Your Holiness, You Sound Like a C – Student at a Second-Rate Bible College

In August 2016 an earthquake struck central Italy, killing 297 people and injuring more than 300. I’m sure at least some believers—especially those wandering in the rubble—were brought to the brink of cynicism in the face of such horrors: What can God be up to? In the Earthquake Control Department, isn’t now the time for almighty to mean something?

Mourners might not know of H. L. Mencken’s declaration, “The whole Christian system, like every other similar system, goes to pieces upon the problem of evil,” but looking at crushed babies, they might give Mencken a thumbs-up. If someone dared to pat me on the back at that moment and whisper, “God is here to comfort you”—my response would be an obscene version of get-out-of-my-face.

In fact Christian posturing about a benevolent Cosmos—engineered and supervised by a loving deity—is shown to be nonsense in the face of earthquakes and tsunamis, hurricanes and tornadoes (among many other things that nature throws at us).

Christian apologists have written endless streams of theobabble for centuries trying to square this theological circle. But Catholic theologian Uta Ranke-Heinemann is candid: ““The question of the origin of evil, of what causes the tears and deviltries of the world, the question that no theologian has so far managed to answer, is one that humans have always posed.” (Putting Away Childish Things, p. 62).

But Popes are in charge of the brand—they’ve got a big business to protect and defend—so pushing theobabble that supposedly sounds good is what they do best. So Francis rushed in to play the comfort card. His meaningless words qualify superbly as diversionary fluff:

“I cannot fail to express my heartfelt sorrow and spiritual closeness to all those present in the zones afflicted. I ask you to join me in praying to the Lord Jesus, who is always moved by compassion before the reality of human suffering, that he may console the broken hearted, and through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, bring them peace.”

How pathetic. Especially for those who are skepical about long-dead heroes who supposedly live in the sky (or in our hearts?). Is that the best he can do? This is theology distilled into sentimentality, something I might expect from a mediocre Bible college graduate assigned to a backwoods pulpit. I suspect that many among the devout, through their tears, give a shrug to this theological white noise.

They want to know why. People in the deepest pain imaginable have looked their pastors in the eye, pleading for answers that make sense. The answers aren’t there. In Chris Chibnall’s superb BBC drama, Broadchurch, about the murder of an 11-year old boy in a small English coastal town, the parents sit with a young parish priest out of his depth trying to ease their anguish. The father stammers a few words: “Just need some answers, don’t we? We need some help. You have a line to the Big Man, why don’t you ask him? We’re drowning down here.”

Well, if there’s anyone with a line to the Big Man, isn’t it the Vicar of Christ on Earth? Who else might have the Red Phone on his desk? “Jesus will console and Mary will bring you peace” just doesn’t cut it. If that’s the best the Pope can do, he simply demonstrates, once again, that Mencken was right.

David Madison was a pastor in the Methodist Church for nine years, and has a PhD in Biblical Studies from Boston University. His book, Ten Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief: a Minister-Turned-Atheist Shows Why You Should Ditch the Faith, was published by Tellectual Press in August 2016.

Was Jesus Born of a Virgin?, Part 3

Part 2 can be found here. Realist1234 responded. My introductory remarks: 'Q' is a hypothetical document that most NT scholars think best explain the synoptic gospels. Yes, there is a minority view. Do you want to hang your belief in the resurrection on a minority view? And if your god desires belief unto salvation why did he allow the evidence to lead most scholars to think Q exists?

Paul may not have needed to talk about the virgin birth, or indeed of many realities about Jesus' life. But why not? You assume he believed what we find in the canonical Gospels even though he doesn't mention the virgin birth. Can you establish that? He and Peter disagreed on circumcision. What else did they disagree about? Surely there were other things. Nonetheless, there was a need to discuss the virgin birth. His discussion of original sin in Rom. 5-8 (according to most theologians) demands it. Had he done so he would've disarmed critics who would say Jesus suffered from original sin if he was born the natural way. So why didn't he?

What Is Bad Theology?

Hint: John 3:16 Is Pretty Bad

On Reviews of My Book Unapologetic

According to this review my book Unapologetic: Why Philosophy of Religion Must End is an "mandatory/essential read for people interested in the issues it addresses! I've copied it below for your convenience. There's more to my book than merely calling for atheist philosophers to end their own discipline. It's also a manual for teaching readers how to effectively deal with religion and other faith-based paranormal claims.

I expected some bad book reviews since my target is the philosophy of religion. What I didn't expect are utterly unfair reviews by people who should know better, who are destroying their own credibility in writing them. So far they nitpick at it rather than deal with its focus--one reviewer doesn't even tell readers what I'm doing in it, basically leaving them clueless. In any case, these two posts of mine effectively answer the bad reviews I've seen so far: 1) On The Value of Philosophy and Definitional Apologetics; 2) Isn't it inconsistent to criticize the legitimacy of Philosophy of Religion?

Was Jesus Born of a Virgin?, Part 2

Part 1 can be found here. I received a response from a Christian who switched topics from the virgin birth to the resurrection of Jesus and the mysteries that science hasn't solved yet. He argued the resurrection of Jesus supports the virgin birth of Jesus and that, even if the virgin birth is hard to believe he could never believe what an atheist like me does. My brief reply is instructive I think.

Billions of people were raised to believe something differently. As outsiders they could no more be convinced of your type of Christianity, than you could be convinced of their particular religion. Given this, the most charitable thing we can say about how people adopt their religion is that learning one's religion on Mama's knees is an unreliable way to know which religion is true, if there is one. Agreed? In other words, billions of people have been indoctrinated to believe something false. How do you know you aren't one of them? Do you want to know? Or are you having fun trying to match wits with me/us?

My Book "Unapologetic" Is Getting Out There!

Josh Baker posted this pic in a comment on Facebook from Powell's City of Books. Pretty cool! It's getting out there.

Was Jesus born of a virgin?

You would think that if Jesus was born of a virgin, and that such a belief is important to Christianity, the Christian clergy would all believe it. But significant numbers of them don't:

According to a 1998 poll of 7,441 Protestant clergy in the U.S., the following ministers said they didn’t believe in the virgin birth:

American Lutherans, 19 percent
American Baptists, 34 percent
Episcopalians, 44 percent
Presbyterians, 49 percent
Methodists, 60 percent

Yet another poll, in 1999, surveyed 103 Roman Catholic priests, Anglican priests and Protestant ministers in the U.K. That poll found 25 percent did not believe in the virgin birth, according to A 2004 survey of ministers in the Church of Scotland found 37 percent don’t accept the virgin account.

The clergy are educated Christians and they have much more at stake in maintaining their faith as traditionally believed. We would not expect so many of them to reject the virgin birth. The fact so many of them do so shows the evidence for the virgin birth is not there.

Jesus wasn't the only son of a god in ancient times

Christians are either ignorant of this fact or they unreasonably deny its impact. Why should anyone in today's society believe the virgin birth of Jesus since the so-called testimony of it comes from the same ancient superstitious world that believed in other virgin births? The fact is, Jesus wasn’t the only son of a god in ancient times, as biblical scholar Richard C. Miller previously argued here at DC: 'Tis the Season to Debunk Ridiculous Claims . . .

Isn't it inconsistent to criticize the legitimacy of Philosophy of Religion?

One major criticism of my book Unapologetic is seriously misguided to the point where my critics are just ignorant. I dealt with it in my book, especially at length on pages 181-184. But I can dispel with it quickly here. The criticism is that it's hypocritical or duplicitous or inconsistent or contradictory and perhaps even self-referentially incoherent to call for the end of philosophy of religion while using the philosophy of religion to do so.

If this criticism is sound then no one can ever call for the end of philosophy of religion. No one. Ever. This criticism forever insulates philosophy of religion as a discipline from ever being criticized. But why must that be the case, unless philosophy of religion is seen as beyond all criticism or justification? Upon what basis does a discipline need no justification? Critics must therefore state why the discipline they love so much needs no justification. But if it needs justification then it's possible that under rational scrutiny it may fail to be a legitimate discipline in the secular university.

Give Christians an Inch, They’ll Take a Light Year

God Shows Up Late

Believers get whiney and petulant when we delete God from “in the beginning,” so, for the sake of argument, let’s wipe their tears and soothe their troubled spirits by granting that a god must have launched the Cosmos—pending the latest updates from cosmologists.

But give Christians that inch and they’ll take a light year. They overreach and rush in with assumptions and faith babble. They’ll want to push the Bible agenda. Their swarms of ideas about their god are as deeply entrenched as the belief in god-the-originator. They leap to the conclusion that the God described in the Bible is the one that triggered the Big Bang. And they’re shocked to be told that this doesn’t follow at all. God is God . . . what’s the problem?

'Tis the Season to Debunk Ridiculous Claims . . .

'Tis the season to debunk ridiculous claims to Jesus’ supposed historical divine conception and virgin birth!

After Alexander's vast conquests to the East, his successors governed what came to be known as the Hellenistic kingdoms. Thus, under these empires came the "Greekification" or, in the parlance of historical study, the Hellenization of the Mediterranean East (including the present regions of Asia Minor, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, and Iraq). Until the Christianization of the Greek East, Alexander's towering legacy defined the very tenets and codes of power in the region.

This sweeping cultural phenomenology of "Greekification" (i.e., Hellenization) of the region came to characterize most all significant cultural production in that region for the eight centuries following Alexander. Hellenization essentially entailed the deliberate imitation (or "mimesis") of classical Greek forms and symbols, and Alexander himself understandably stood as the single most potent symbol in all of classical antiquity. With regard to this heavily mythologized emblem, the ancient historians customarily embellished his story with legends of divine exaltation. In imitation of the chief demigod of Geek mythology, that is, divine Heracles, the historians fashioned Alexander's divine birth myth. Following prior now non-extant historians (Satyrus and Pompeius Trogus from the 3rd century B.C.E.), Plutarch wrote:

Unapologetic Is an Audible Book and in Barnes & Noble

You can now get "Unapologetic" in an an audio format. Listen to a sample on Amazon. I also chanced upon a copy in the philosophy section of my local Barnes & Noble store. Yeahhhhh!

Myth Versus History: Playing hide-and-seek with Jesus, by Robert Conner

Given the ubiquitous superstition of his era and the festering resentment of the Jewish populace in Roman occupied Palestine, there was nothing particularly noteworthy about the message or career of a certain Joshua of Nazareth, better known as Jesus of Nazareth—Jesus is the Latinized form of Ihsouj (Iēsous), the Greek rendering of ciriiry (Yehoshua), Joshua, meaning “Yahweh delivers.” Joshua son of Nun, or Jesus son of Nauē (Ihsouj o Nauh),1 the eponymous hero of the book of Joshua, represented the mythic triumph of Jewish theocracy over gentile paganism. The name, which embodied the very hope of salvation, of freedom, of rescue from the gentile Roman overlords, was understandably popular in 1st century Palestine.

An Excerpt with Discussions About My New Book "Unapologetic"

Hemant Mehta, the Friendly Atheist, announced my newest book Unapologetic. I had missed it when it first appeared on November 30th. He also posted it on his Facebook wall. Check out the excerpt and the comments below each announcement. There's more to my book than merely calling for atheist philosophers to end their own discipline. It's also a manual for teaching readers how the effectively deal with religion and other faith-based paranormal claims.

Jesus and Other Demigods in Classical Antiquity

Let us begin with a basic definition. What was a “demigod” in Mediterranean antiquity? A demigod was any individual described as having one divine parent and one human parent, typically conceived by a male god copulating with a female mortal. Hellenistic and Roman society framed its existence within a dispensation that Hesiod described in his Works and Days as the Iron Age, a more mundane period just following the Age of Heroes. Ancient society romanticized about a past age when heroes and demigods walked among mere mortals. They saw these traditions continue in their present age in the form of honorific exaltation. As a means of canonizing the most significant figures, ancient society mythologized exceptional persons with divine birth and immortality among the gods. This was the governing paradigm for deification in the time and contexts whence earliest Christianity arose, i.e., in the principal urban cultural centers of the Roman world.

In my last essay, Confident Atheism: Reflections on the Golden Bough, we discussed the all-too-human origins of the mythological traditions that fill what came to be known as the Christian Bible. In the course of the argument, I indicated that the theologies variously arising in these texts showed much the same fluid, adaptive, syncretistic character as seen in any culturally constructed theology throughout times and societies. Indeed, from a bare humanistic standpoint, these divine constructs in the sacralized Christian texts naturally reside under the larger class of all theologies, which naturally resides under the larger class of all mythologies, which naturally resides under the larger class of all wholly-human cultural production. That the largest religion to emerge from classical antiquity should augment and adapt the prevailing theological-mythic paradigms of that time should come as no surprise. In my own Resurrection and Reception, I have articulated this observation at length, finally writing (p. 13):

Top 30 Atheist Blogs And Websites Every Atheist Must Follow by Feedspot

Debunking Christianity was recently ranked in the top ten among atheist sites by Feedspot!! Pretty cool this is! Check their list out. Stop here. Read. Learn. Be challenged. Engage.

The UFO of Bethlehem - Through Atheist Eyes with Frank Zindler


The Lazarus Stunt


Theology-Soaked Fiction

The Pope and the Big Bang

Maybe Our Brains Are too Puny?

Quote of the Day On The Value of Philosophy and Definitional Apologetics

Over the last decade I have found that one bastion for Christian apologists has been philosophy, especially the philosophy of religion. The scholars have honed their definitional apologetics in such a fine-tuned manner that when engaging them in this discipline, it’s like trying to catch a greased pig. Or, to switch metaphors, trying to chase them down the rabbit’s hole in an endless and ultimately fruitless quest for definitions. What’s an extraordinary claim? What constitutes evidence? What’s the definition of supernatural? What’s the scientific method? What’s a miracle? What’s a basic belief? What’s a veridical religious experience? What’s evil? They do this just like others have done over questions like, “What is the definition of pornography?” And then they gerrymander around the plain simple facts of experience. I would rather deal in concrete examples like a virgin who supposedly had a baby and a man who supposedly was raised from the dead. [From Unapologetic: Why Philosophy of Religion Must End, p.28]
Notice the red letter edition? The reason why I prefer to deal in concrete examples is because of how Christian philosophers use definitions to obfuscate their own theology. It isn't because I'm anti-intellectual. Nor do I think definitions are unimportant. I just want truth to prevail.  

Reviewing A Lopsided Bar Room Book Discussion About a Belief System No One Holds, Complete With Annoying Corny Cheesy Humor, Part 3

I'm reviewing Randal Rauser and Justin Schieber's conversational style book, An Atheist and a Christian Walk into a Bar: Talking about God, the Universe, and Everything.

I've previously mentioned the lopsidedness between Rauser and Schieber's academic credentials. This matters because breadth of knowledge matters, if nothing else. A self-taught person like Schieber cannot get the breadth that comes from taking the core classes required to earn bachelors, masters and doctoral degrees. It's the breadth of knowledge Schieber lacks, even if he has a fair understanding of the material in this book, and he does have a fair understanding of it, not an expert understanding. I've also talked about the content and criticized the co-authors for discussing the classical concept of god because no one, or practically no one, holds to it in today's world.

As I write this review I wrestle with who might want to buy a copy. Not me. I haven't learned anything significant from reading it, but then experts cannot be the target audience either. Which expert would ever quote Schieber's words in this book, saying, "On this matter Schieber said: '...quote...'" Or, "For more on this topic I recommend what Schieber said in An Atheist and a Christian Walk into a Bar. I know of no expert who would do so. Furthermore, the conversational style of the book is not conducive to an elaborate in-depth defense of an argument for one reason, it's just a conversation. Each co-author must allow the other co-author time to respond, so you never get to read an elaborate and lengthy defense of any given argument.

Moreover, I would rather read what Schieber said without having to read Rauser's take downs of what he said. This would've been more interesting to me, especially because it was annoying to wade through the muddy waters resulting from Rauser's dredged up obfuscations of Schieber's arguments (none original with him). Rauser's got nothing here. Yet Schieber seems so happy to be invited to co-write the book he never presses his arguments to the end and even bends over backwards in the face of Rauser's ignorance to be polite and respectful at all costs to Rauser, his superior (after all, the book looks better on his resume than on Rauser's). The real cost is the truth. Schieber either cannot adequately defend his arguments or he's too timid to do so. As a result, truth suffers.

What about typical bar room people, the Joe Six-Pack's of the English speaking world? Would they want to buy and read this book? Probably not. In too many cases the co-authors treat readers as if they're ignorant. The stories they tell in it are long and simplistic and take up too much space that would better be served getting to the point and arguing that point. This is standard Rauser. It's what he does, and he does it well if you find that type of writing useful. I don't. Many of his stories are analogies I find unhelpful because they don't clarify but rather obfuscate. What's interesting is that Schieber does the same thing, having learned from Rauser, a bad role model in my opinion, and so he's equally annoying. The stories dumb down the discussion, trying to reach down to the bar room person. But then dumb people still don't want to be treated as if they're dumb, right? Then the co-authors turn right around and forget about these readers by using language they probably cannot understand, plus more.

The Kindle Version of "Unapologetic" is Now Available!

The Kindle version of "Unapologetic" is now available!

Reviewing A Lopsided Bar Room Book Discussion About a Belief System No One Holds, Complete With Annoying Corny Cheesy Humor, Part 2

I'm reviewing Randal Rauser and Justin Schieber's conversational style book, An Atheist and a Christian Walk into a Bar: Talking about God, the Universe, and Everything.

I've previously mentioned the lopsidedness between Rauser and Schieber's academic credentials. This matters because breadth of knowledge matters, if nothing else. A self-taught person like Schieber cannot get the breadth that comes from taking the core classes required to earn bachelors, masters and doctoral degrees. It's the breadth of knowledge Schieber lacks, even if he has a fair understanding of the material in this book.

Let's turn a bit to its content. Rauser chose to make three chapter long arguments as did Schieber. Rauser's arguments focused on: 1) God, faith and testimony, 2) God and moral obligation, and 3) God, mathematics and reason. Schieber focused on: 1) the problem of massive theological disagreement; 2) the problem of the hostility of the universe, and 3) the evolution of the biological role of pain. These are all good interesting topics as far as they go.

Before they begin they talk about why god matters in chapter one. Now if I were Schieber and I were asked why God or gods mattered, I would say because people matter. God matters because there have been, and continues to be, a massive amount of suffering caused by the belief in God, or gods. That would be my focus, and I've edited a book on that topic with regard to Christianity, titled Christianity is Not Great: Why Faith Fails. Schieber doesn't feel the pain that belief in God or gods has caused. So he lacks the motivation to care. What he's doing is having an interesting dialogue for the sake of dialogue, and that's simply not good enough. Schieber says:
Ultimately, it matters little to me that readers are unlikely to have been swayed in either direction. I did not begin this dialogue with a primary goal of acquiring new notches on my atheistic belt. I began this project because I love the dialogue, the concepts involved, and the joy I get with exploring the mechanics of how arguments interact. (p. 206).
He needs to get some hypothetical fire in his belly for all of the people who have been burned because of god beliefs. For him this is merely an interesting discussion and that's it, because he lacks breadth. Treating god-belief as an interesting topic simply does not cut it. People have died and are dying because Rauser's god-belief is held by broadly two thirds of the world. Schieber should read more. I recommend the book by Elicka Peterson Sparks, The Devil You Know: The Surprising Link between Conservative Christianity and Crime.

Instead, Rauser and Schieber focus on why the existence of God is the intellectually responsible thing to discuss for intellectually responsive people, and that we should take classical theistic beliefs seriously. Get that? Neither do I. There ought to be over-riding reasons to take God beliefs seriously. Those reasons should be because there is good evidence to do so (which Rauser should have said, but couldn't, which by itself is telling), or in Schieber's case, because belief in God has produced, and still produces, harm (Schieber's missed opportunity). Then incredibly they choose to focus on a set of beliefs that conceptualize the classical theistic God. For them this god "is a necessarily existent nonphysical agent who is omniscient omnipotent, and perfectly good." (p. 27) There are three massively wrong things about choosing to focus on this classical view of god.

Reviewing A Lopsided Bar Room Book Discussion About a Belief System No One Holds, Complete With Annoying Corny Cheesy Humor, Part 1

Randal Rauser has teamed up with Justin Schieber to write a conversational style book, published by atheist publisher Prometheus Books, titled An Atheist and a Christian Walk into a Bar: Talking about God, the Universe, and Everything. Academically speaking Dr. Rauser earned a PhD from King's College, London, and is a professor of historical theology at Taylor Seminary in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. He also has written nine books, including one he co-authored with me, titled God or Godless?: One Atheist. One Christian. Twenty Controversial Questions. Schieber, the co-author of this book, is a second year student at Grand Rapids Community College. How is it, you ask, that these two teamed up? Well, let me tell you. I don't know. Schieber is self-taught on these issues and intelligent, I'll admit. But intelligent readers who think academic credentials are important won't expect anything less from this book than a student who is out-matched by professor Rauser. At the very least, Schieber is not Rauser's equal by far. I was asked by an atheist publisher, who was considering publishing this book, whether or not it would be worth publishing. I said no, and they didn't publish it. My main reason for saying so is because of the lopsidedness of the participants, and it does show in this book. Atheist readers, who are asked to pony up money for a book, want reassured their view is represented by someone who knows what s/he is talking about, someone who is a somewhat equally educated credentialed participant. That's one major flaw with this book. Readers want equal representation. But Prometheus Books disagrees. How is it, you ask, that Prometheus Books published it? Well, let me tell you. I don't know. There are other major flaws. What are they, you ask? Well, I do know.

The Day God Overslept (Well, One of Many Days)

Theodicy, AKA The Litany of Excuses

"Unapologetic" is the #1 New Release in Religious Philosophy

LINK to "Unapologetic"
On Amazon it's also ranked 7th in Atheism books and 13,406th overall.

Confident Atheism: Reflections on the Golden Bough

Atheism. How hubristic! Afterall, how can any mere mortal know for certain that no gods exist anywhere in or beyond this vast cosmos? One would need to be omniscient to be justified in drawing such a comprehensive conclusion, right? So goes the argument for soft atheism and/or agnosticism, and, for quite some time, I myself found this kind of argumentation quite compelling. As I broadened my academic study, however, beyond biblical studies, to include the full gamut of world religious traditions through times and cultures, ultimately earning my Ph.D. in Religious Studies (rather than in mere Biblical Studies), I confidently abandoned that line of argumentation. Surprisingly (or not), biblical studies, once plainly contextualized within religious studies, leads to one and only one destination: atheism. Several lines of thought arise, all pointing in this one direction. Here, I shall discuss atheism as the natural and necessary corollary of what was known in biblical studies as the History of Religions School.

Nineteenth-century Germany saw the rise of critical biblical scholarship, reaching its zenith with die religionsgeschichtliche Schule (the History of Religions School). This “school” of thought amounted to a shared methodological paradigm predominantly advanced at the University of Göttingen in the 1890s under such distinguished names as Gunkel, Weiss, Bousset, Otto, and Wrede. These pioneers set forth what most in biblical studies at the time regarded as a radical approach to academic study of the Bible: One best studies the religious content, themes, and patterns inscribed in the biblical texts within the context of a larger understanding of all religious content, themes, and patterns. With the History of Religions School, we witness the nascent underpinnings of what later came to be known as the field of comparative religions. These early pioneers began a discussion about biblical texts fully grounded in human cultural history, a discussion that held the biblical texts as no more special or “revelatory” than any other known religious documents.

Quote of the Day by Jon Green, On God's Supposed Love

One of my dogs disobeyed me the other day. I burned him alive in a fire pit. I love my dogs like God loves us. - Jon Green

"Unapologetic" is a tribute to the Influence of Three Atheist Intellectual Giants

My book "Unapologetic" is a tribute to the intellectual goading and influence of Drs. Peter Boghossian, David Eller and Hector Avalos. Kudos to them, intellectual giants all.

LINK to Unapologetic

“I Hate to Break it to You Here at Notre Dame”


“I’ve Started to Feel Distinctly Nauseous”