Sunday, January 30, 2011
Recently, a question was posted to an earlier blog post about the nature of hell. The writer had read a book by Tom Harpur which challenged the traditional notions about the nature of hell. He wanted a response to some of the points Harpur was making:
Christian apocalyptic literature borrowed heavily from Jewish writings and cannot be understood apart from them; Jewish apocalyptic writings, in turn, owed much to Persian sources.
...The idea of a fiery hell of punishment occurs only once in the earliest Gospel, Mark, once in Luke, and not at all in John’s Gospel or the Johannine Epistles.
…It is unfortunate that the translators of the King James Version used the word “hell” here (and even hell-fire) because that is not what the Greek original plainly says. The word actually used, and repeated, by Mark is “Gehenna.”
…Once you realize this, it becomes abundantly clear that Jesus is using contemporary imagery as a striking way of highlighting the fact that important issues are at stake. Sacrifices must be made by those would be disciples, but they are worth it because the alternative is to endure a haunting sense of loss. In trying to avoid the discipline of discipleship one risks desolation, or being cast on the refuse heap. There is absolutelyno warrant here for the later, terrifying doctrines of the Church about hell.
…One thing stands out in our survey of the roots of the doctrine of hell: there is no overall, consistent paradigm or metaphysical system worked out in the Bible. The ancient Hebrew mind was not given to philosophical or metaphysical abstractions; it thought in concrete images.
…There is no consistent teaching about the fate of the “wicked” or the unrepentant in either the Old or the New Testaments. Nor, considering the figurative language used to describe hell, is there justification for the traditional, popular view of a literal place of eternal, fiery punishment for the “damned.” The Jesus of history never taught such a doctrine, and it desecrates the name of the God he came to reveal to preach and teach that he did. This conclusion will not please those conservative Christians who hate to be disturbed by the facts, but it seems to me inescapable on the basis of evidence.
Responding to such claims of an "expert" is a daunting task. There is some solace in knowing that many highly educated and highly intelligent Christians came before us. But more to the point, and moving away from the "lake," Harpur seems to be missing the forest for the trees.
Knowing with certainty whether Christian apocalyptic literature “borrowed heavily from” earlier sources would require a level of expertise that most people simply don’t have. But I don’t believe this should cause us real concern regarding the nature of hell. The point of framing an argument the way Harpur does, in my view, is to convince the reader that he should simply accept the “expert” view and realize that he was being mislead all these years. The question, of course, assumes that the early writers were manufacturing a faith system, and looking – intentionally or inadvertently – for ideas to help fill it out. But I have little reason to believe this to be true. People invent things for a reason, usually for personal profit, fame or glory, but the early Christians were persecuted and killed for what they taught. Consequently, it is reasonable to conclude that they said the things they said because they believed they were true, that they really did represent Jesus’ teachings.
To help see this point, consider for example an author who writes about the sinking of the Titanic. He might be accused of “borrowing heavily” from previous “tragedy literature” by detailing scenes of the ship’s lighting finally going out, or the band continuing to play on in the night. But why assume that he is borrowing anything, and not instead recounting the events as recalled by the survivors? The more reasonable conclusion - about an actual historic event being written about by a serious writer, as were the early Christain writers - is that they were relating what they knew to be true, or at least what someone reliable had taught them. Harpur tries to explain how the early Christian writers fabricated their doctrine, without first providing proof that this occurred.
In the next quote, Harpur says that the idea of a fiery hell occurs only once in Mark, once in Luke and not in John’s Gospel or letters. My answer would be, "so what?" How many times must it appear? What contradictory passages about hell surround it? Simply reading the Gospel accounts makes abundantly clear that hell is a place of torment, often referred to as “fiery,” a place where there will be much gnashing of teeth. There is a divide that cannot be bridged, as in the story of Lazarus and the rich man. The message is consistently foreboding and ominous. For instance, Jesus says it is better to lose and eye or a limb than to be cast whole into hell.
Harpur complains about the use of the word “hell.” Translation of concepts like hell – for which humans have no direct experience – is necessarily difficult. The author believes that Gehenna is actually what Jesus referred to. How does this help? Gehenna was the city garbage dump – located outside the city’s walls –in which refuse was perpetually burned. Am I to draw comfort from this imagery? Being cast into a burning garbage dump is supposed to gently remind me of a “haunting sense of loss?” And the idea that “sacrifices must be made by the disciples” – while not inconsistent with Jesus’ message – is certainly not the core of Jesus’ teaching. Instead, he taught that he came to be “the sacrifice” and that through faith and trust in Him, our path to the Father is reopened.
Harpur concludes that there is “absolutely no warrant here for the later, terrifying doctrines of the Church about hell.” Really? What was the rich man feeling? What would one feel being tossed into Gehenna? If Harpur is trying to say that there is no actual “lake of fire,” that may be so. But being separated from the presence of the perfect God would make such a lake seem mild by comparison.
Harpur claims there is no overall consistent paradigm or teaching as to the fate of the unrepentant. We must be reading different Bibles. While the imagery is varied, the import is always the same - its a very bad place that we would be wise to avoid.
To sum up, much of what Harpur writes may be technically true, but he’s deliberately missing the point. Imagine that you are taking a trip to a remote area and you read a brochure that tells you not to get injured or sick because the medical care is a throwback to the surgeon’s tent on a Civil War field of battle. I could say, parsing words, that the author may have meant that the medical care is good, but the doctors like to wear uniforms reminiscent of the Union Army and work in tents rather than buildings. But this would be missing the obvious point of the writer, and anyone with a basic understanding of English would get that. To insist otherwise would simply reveal one’s bias to refuse to believe what is right before your eyes.
For centuries, serious Christians have debated the nature of hell. Room for disagreement exists. But to suggest that Jesus never taught it to be a horrible place is simply to refuse to see what is plainly written in the texts.
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Not long ago, I was asked this question: "There are numerous Christian denominations, many of which accuse other denominations of doctrinal error. Doesn’t this amount to proof against the existence of God? After all, what kind of God would allow his "inspired" word to be understood so differently by different people?
This question has considerable surface appeal. If you raised your eyebrow and said, “Good question,” you certainly wouldn’t be alone. Of course, there is a trick to such a question, a premise hidden within it, which needs to be teased out and confronted. I think the full argument, the one in which the premise is explicitly stated, would go something like this:
- If God exists, he would make himself known directly and personally to prevent and safeguard us from doctrinal error.
- There exists doctrinal error.
- Therefore, there is no God.
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Why Is God So Hidden?
In this podcast, Jim responds to an atheist objection related to the "hidden" nature of God. If God exists, why would he hide in the way that he apparently does? Why wouldn't God just come right out and make it obvious to everyone that He exists? Jim also answers listener email related to John Chapter 7, and responds to a listener who has doubts about the Genesis account and the age of the earth.
Check out the podcast homepage for subscription information and archives.
Sunday, January 23, 2011
Consider: Atheists hold that there is no God - they "know" He does not exist. Now, they may claim that they have reasons to support this position. They might point to the existence of evil, or the claims of Darwinism, or what they believe to be contradictions in the resurrection accounts. But to really be certain that nowhere in the universe can God be found, they would have to have access to, well, the entire universe. Given the size and scope of the visible universe, this is quite a task. Add to that any aspects or dimensions that may elude our sensors and the task becomes even more insurmountable.
Here is the odd thing about such a quest. In order to really satisfy oneself that the universe is devoid of God, the searcher must attain complete knowledge of the universe, for any lack of knowledge could relate to the very place that God is present. Moreover, since God preceded and transcends this universe, one would have to have the capability to examine anything that exists beyond the universe. In short, then, one must become omniscient - possess total and complete knowledge of all places and all things - for only then could he know with the certainty atheism connotes that we are in fact alone.
Ironically, of course, at this point the searcher would possess the attributes of God. Proving atheism is, in the end, a futile quest, for one would need to be God to prove that He doesn’t exist.
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
The term jealousy usually connotes a "feeling" of envious resentment, often brought on by another's rivalry or success. Since God is by defnition the Supreme Being, it makes little sense to view God as being envious - there is nothing that God wants, needs, or does not already have.
But there is another definition of "jealous" that makes a bit more sense, and the dictionary lists it as the "biblical" definition: "intolerant of unfaithfulness or rivalry." But, the atheist may challenge, why should God be "intolerant?" This too seems to suggest that He is injured or diminished when his creatures turn away from Him to worship idols. But how can a perfect being experience injury?
I would suggest that there is another perspective from which to view these passages. God is "intolerant" of our worship of false idols, not because of any pettiness on His part, but because our love of idols damages us. When we make idols of things and fail to worship the source of all good, we necessarily turn away from God, and from the redemptive work He has planned for us.
Idol worship in its modern manifestation - love of career, or success, or wealth, or possessions -turns us away from the one true source of life, and points us back toward ourselves, inward. God is not "intolerant" because of some deficit in Him. Instead, this intolerance is reflective of what is necessary for us.
Satellites like the one pictured above can derive energy from the Sun. But to do so, the satellite must first deploy its solar panels fully and in a particular way, and then orient them so that they are completely facing the Sun's rays. This is not to accommodate the Sun, or to meet some "need" that the Sun has. Instead, it is to allow the thing in need of the Sun's energy to be in the proper position, relative to the Sun, to receive what it needs.
So too with people. Only by re-oreinting ourselves toward the source of all life - the Son - can we hope to attain all the good that is promised to those who place their trust in Him.
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
I recently received a reply from Latter-day Saint, Timothy R. Berman regarding the blog post The Bible vs. Joseph Smith. Replying to his post in the comments section will allow me to focus on a couple of ideas that I have wanted to address for a while now, but haven’t got around to it. Thanks Timothy for the nudge. This is part 2. Part 1 can be found here.
Greg Gifford is a Mormon man who while traveling in Israel became acquainted with Joel Kramer, the producer and narrator of the documentary. Joel asked Greg if he could film him as they had a conversation about the evidence that was literally all around them. As anyone who has had conversations with many Mormons, the level at which LDS understand and have investigated Mormonism is a wide spectrum. Greg and Joel’s conversation was added to the film for its honesty and is in no way out the ordinary from many, many LDS conversations I have had. Timothy writes,
I challenge the producers to produce veracity and evidence for who “Greg Gifford” is.If you feel that strongly, then go ahead. The contact information is email@example.com. I expect that public apologies will be made if Greg is found to be LDS.
I think that Timothy’s accusation is the most ridiculous charge (I am not just picking on Timothy here; this is a common claim I see popping up in various places around the blogosphere). For one, I find it fascinating that Mormons are rejecting Greg Gifford as a Mormon because of his professed beliefs. He claims to be a Mormon. Isn’t that good enough? That is what LDS tell Christians all the time regarding their “Christianity.” Mormons will say, “We believe in Christ, therefore we are Christian,” even though they reject the creeds of Christianity and worship a different god, Jesus and trust in required works found only through the LDS church for salvation. Secondly, there are Christians out there that find their way before cameras and microphones every day that make poor defenses for the Christian faith and say things that are not correct. Many are politicians and celebrities or even pastors that should be better prepared knowing that their lives are often in the spotlight. Do I wish that they didn’t publicly say dumb things? Of course, but my first response is not to claim that they are not Christian. Thirdly, I realize that Mormons are saying that Greg is a “plant”; that he is an actor playing the part of a Mormon. While it is easier to dismiss the truth if it is labeled “anti-Mormon”, the producers of the documentary are Christian men and women that love Mormons and want them to know the truth. If they are wrong, then they are wrong, but to call them liars without evidence is to slander them to minimize their efforts. As Christian apologists we never want to present false evidence that could be easily refuted. Whether we are speaking to Mormons or atheists or Jehovah’s Witnesses or Muslims, the trust and effort put forth would never be knowingly put in jeopardy by lying.
Monday, January 17, 2011
30 Days (How Media Influences the Culture)
In this podcast, Jim reviews two episodes of "30 Days" and talks about media efforts to influence people who hold a Christian Worldview. Jim plays a number of clips from the show and discusses the power that media has to advance pluralism and relativism in our culture.
Check out the podcast homepage for subscription information and archives.
Sunday, January 16, 2011
I recently received a reply from Latter-day Saint, Timothy R. Berman regarding the blog post The Bible vs. Joseph Smith. Replying to his post in the comments section will allow me to focus on a couple of ideas that I have wanted to address for a while now, but haven’t got around to it. Thanks Timothy for the nudge.
The Test of a Prophet (according to the DVD and the Producers of said DVD):This seems to be the common way to address the problem of false prophecy within Mormon apologetics. Find a loophole. The reasoning goes something like this: Joseph gave false prophecy, but all I have to do is show one false prophecy by a prophet of God and Joseph is off the hook. So the first step is to cut and paste the usual list of false prophecies in the Bible taken from the nearest atheist website, then completely disregard God’s command about false prophets and Whallah! Joseph is in the clear. I have seen many of these claims by atheists, Seth R. and other LDS.
“But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die. And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the LORD hath not spoken? When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him.” Deuteronomy 18:20-22
… So, let us apply the same test and see if critics of the LDS Religion will accept the reality that Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Isaiah are truly Prophets of God or are False Prophets. Why? Because that is exactly what the premise is in this DVD and we must be objective in looking that the evidence right?
Isaiah 7:1-7 Failed because of II Chronicles 28:1, 5-6
Isaiah 17:1-2 yet Damascus still stands today
Isaiah 19:5-7 Drying up of the Nile – there is no archaeological evidence (and not talking about the Exodus).
Ezekiel 26:7-14 claims to prophecy of the fall of Tyre to Nebuchadnezzer, yet it did not fall under Nebuchadnezzer and existed until Alexander the Great laid seige and conqured Tyre.
Ezekiel 29:17-20 Desolation of Egypt prophecied – where is the archaeological and historical evidence that Egypt was laid waste and desolate as prophesied?
Ezekiel 29:20 Nebuchadnezzer would conquer Egypt, yet he never did from historical accounts.
Jeremiah 36:30 prophecies that no one will sit on the throne who was a descendant of Jehoiakim, yet according to another Bible passage – II Kings 24:6 – Jehoiakim had a son take his place on the throne –
So all you $1 apologists (as J. Warner Wallace would say) out there. Now’s your chance to get in the game. Take a look at the claims of Timothy here and determine if the verses he gives are in fact false prophecies. Respond in the comments section.
The Ezekiel passages - Basically the "they" in verse 12 refers back to the "nations" in verses 3-5 and were represented and fulfilled by Alexander the Great, not Nebuchadnezzar's forces. The “Desolation of Egypt prophecied [sic]” is clearly not given and can be resolved by simply reading the text. Desolation is different than plundered (robbed).
Here is a very reasonable and thorough explanation why this is not an unfulfilled prophecy. This article goes into more detail than I could here and why reinvent the wheel?
So... no false prophecy here.
Often times, these alleged false prophecies are myopic, comparing only two verses in scripture; ignoring the context or other relevant historical information. They often take advantage of ambiguities in scripture or argue that prophecies that have not yet or are not recorded are false as well. This can’t be said of Joseph Smith due to the prolific nature in which EVERYTHING was recorded in the early LDS church giving clear evidence that the prophecies of Joseph Smith did not come to pass.
Many are also Messianic prophecies fulfilled in Christ. It is reasonable that atheists would use these unfulfilled prophecies as evidence against a God who has all knowledge because they totally miss the Messianic prophecies that are satisfied by Christ. It is disturbing that Mormons who claim to believe in the Messiah would use the same arguments to protect Joseph Smith.
Timothy ends his post with this question,
…So, are you – as a Christian – willing to declare Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah False based on the same test of a prophet?
Yes. My answer is yes… IF they are shown to be false prophets, because I trust that the biblical account is true and has been kept whole. I am willing to make a stand for the reliability of God’s word.
Let’s for the sake of argument, say that there truly are false prophecies by legitimate prophets of God. What is the Mormon apologist’s thought process here? Are the prophets of God liars and God’s ok with it? Is God mistaken? Confused? Purposely deceptive? Apatheitc? IF they are found to be false prophets and God called them true prophets, then God is a liar and the Bible is untrustworthy… oh wait a second, that’s ok within Mormonism. So, I’m not sure where LDS stand when making a claim like this or if they have really thought out the consequences.
At the end of the day, I don’t think that Mormons want the Old Testament prophets to be considered false prophets either. After all, Mormons claim to trust the Bible as well. I believe that it’s just a desperate attempt to get Christian apologists to abandon Deuteronomy 18:20-22 as a dependable test of a prophet because Joseph Smith fails miserably.
Ultimately, only God knows the future. Man does not. God can not lie. Man can and often does lie. So if something prophesied from God does not occur, either:
1. The prophet is lying.
2. God allows a different outcomea. Making no exceptions for the prophet (and apparently He has no concern for the precarious position He has put the prophet’s life in)
b. Making certain exemptions (for example the conditional prophecy given in Jeremiah 18:6-10 that grants God’s mercy to Nineveh in Jonah 3 and Hezekiah in 2Kings 20:1-6)
c. Everything is acceptable (He wasn’t really serious about the whole false prophet thing)
The Christian position is that the biblical account allows only for 1 or 2b. My impression is that most Mormons would agree with 2b but really believe it is 2c.
In order to rescue Joseph Smith, LDS want to throw out God’s test for a prophet. The problem is that it proves too much. If we apply this idea, then NO ONE can be a false prophet. Current LDS President and Prophet, Thomas S. Monson could claim that God told him that by the time that you read this, Jesus will have returned and the evidence will be that all the garbage heaps on the earth will have turned into an edible candy wonderland. If it didn’t come true, according to LDS reasoning, he certainly couldn’t be called a false prophet.
But we know from God’s word that it certainly can’t be that God is unconcerned about giving false testimony in His name. The requirements we see in the Bible are to not give false prophesy (lie in God’s name) or lead people to other gods (Deuteronomy 13:1-5); that only God can tell the future (Isaiah 41:21-24; 42:8-9); God hates when someone calls themselves a prophet predicting the future outside of His commanding them to (Jeremiah 23:15-33). So if I say that the Yankees are going to win the World Series, God doesn’t like that. Even if I don’t say “God says, ‘the Yankees will win the World Series.’”
It’s pretty simple. A false prophet is someone who claims to speak for God but isn’t. (Jeremiah 14:14-18) False prophets speak from themselves against the word of God (Ezekiel 13:1-8) saying, ‘GOD said,’ when He hasn’t (Ezekiel 22:28-29). Prophets prophesy falsely - they lie (Jeremiah 5:26-31)
Hmmn, anyone else notice that the prophets most explicit about revealing God’s revulsion for false prophecy are Isaiah, Ezekiel and Jeremiah. Now where have I seen that list before? Oh yeah, it was in Timothy’s comments. These are the very prophets that he and LDS are accusing of being false prophets. Does that make any sense?
God knows the future. God is disgusted by false prophets, gives us warnings against them and a way to identify them. He is pointing His finger at Joseph Smith.
Friday, January 14, 2011
Staci recently wrote the article, Just Another Bad Theory, where she asked the question, “If Mormonism were true...
1. ... Joseph Smith would have been able to consistently, accurately, remember his visit from two separate supernatural beings, God the Father and Jesus the Son. We now know that is not the case (for more info, see here, here, and here).”
Alma posted this response,
I read through your list of 6 items followed by the comment that you could go on but had made your point. I don’t think you’ve made the point (at least with me) that you feel your list has made because you’re relying on faulty premises for your conclusions. Very briefly, here is a reply to your list:
1) You’re assuming that Joseph Smith’s differing accounts of the First Vision are contradictory because they’re not identical. That isn’t necessarily the case. You’re merely begging the question by assuming that your premise is accurate. You need to first demonstrate that the variations are contradictory. If Joseph Smith recounts to someone that he saw “The Lord” in a vision and was told certain things, that doesn’t contradict a later account when he specifies seeing the Father and the Son, unless the first account stipulates that he only saw the Lord and no one else. Telling one portion of a fuller account on one occasion and other portions on other occasions has no bearing on consistency or accuracy unless the details actually contract each other.
As Christian apologists, we often hear the claim from atheists that “the Bible is full of contradictions.” One often cited example is the empty tomb account regarding the number of angels present. Matthew 28:1-7 says there was one angel present while Luke 24:1-9 mentions two. Of course this is not a contradiction because if there were two angels present, there was without a doubt one angel present. These two passages would only be in contradiction if the Matthew passage said, “only one angel was present.”
From the pleaseconvinceme.com article, The Bible Does Not Contradict Itself
“Just Because There is More Than One Perspective, Doesn’t Mean There’s a Contradiction!”
Sometimes when we read parallel accounts of the same event in the scriptures we seem to find minor contradictions in the way that the event is described. The event will sound slightly different in one Gospel, for example, when compared to another Gospel account. Aren’t all of these variations simply errors in the scriptures? Well, we’ve got to be careful not to confuse differences in perspective with Biblical ‘error’! Remember, no two witnesses to the same event will ever describe that event in exactly the same way. If the witnesses DID describe the event in exactly the same way, you should question their honesty!!! Think about it for a minute. The original assemblers of the scriptures could easily have changed the differing accounts after the fact so that they all said the same thing. Or they could simply have formed one large Gospel that included a single story of Jesus, and then destroyed all the competing accounts. But that’s not what they did. Instead, they left us with all four eyewitness accounts so that we could get all the differing perspectives. These differences are not the result of error; they are simply the result of perspective!
So are we guilty of claiming the same thing about Joseph Smith that atheists claim about the gospel eye-witnesses? No, and here’s why.
Regarding Joseph Smith's first vision account, we see some patterns as the story is recounted over time. As the story is retold, the age at which Joseph has the first vision gets younger, the motivation for why Joseph is seeking answers gets more innocent and the level of the encounter becomes elevated. This is called embellishment.
Alma is right, just because the accounts aren't identical doesn't mean that they are contradictory. The contradictions come when Joseph describes himself as different ages when the first vision occurs. He can’t be both 14 and 18 years old (or even 16) at the time of the first vision. The only reason someone couldn’t recall their age for a life changing event like this is if they were lying to seem more innocent.
Joseph Smith also couldn’t have asked “…which of all the sects was right (for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong) and which I should join” and earlier have said “… thus from the age of twelve years to fifteen I pondered many things in my heart concerning the situation of the world of mankind the contentions and divi[si]ons the wicke[d]ness and abominations and the darkness which pervaded the of the minds of mankind my mind become exceedingly distressed for I become convicted of my sins and by searching the scriptures I found that
Joseph Smith gives these accounts over time that include seeing spirits, personages, angels and the Lord (Jesus). I suppose that many angels, spirits, personages, Jesus, etc. could have been there in the grove with Joseph. The question then is why does Joseph leave out seeing Jesus at times? Joseph keeps upping the ante with regard to who was there. First an angel, then two, finally alluding that he had seen the Father and Son. If both were there all along, why does Joseph leave out seeing Heavenly Father in most accounts? It seems more plausible that Joseph is embellishing as he goes along than to say that he neglected to mention seeing Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. Claiming to have seen the Father is a HUGE, UNPRECEDENTED claim that has theological ripples throughout Mormonism regarding the nature of God. Like Joseph's first vision account, this changing nature of God evolves with Joseph's ever-changing theology.
Now, I don’t believe that Joseph saw the Father and he knew it. If you look at the language used, what is not said is just as important as what is said. Joseph alludes to having seen the Father and Son but never says as much. He describes them as two personages, one being the beloved son of the other. This is the same language he uses to describe the angels previously. Who has been in the very presence of God and when recounting the story carefully omits that it was in fact God? Joseph stops short of saying that he saw God but has no problem letting others believe that he saw God. Either way, the fish in this story gets bigger every time that he tells it.
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
Over at "Darwin's God" is a link to a "survey of failed evolutionary predictions" - the website DarwinsPredictions.com. The featured article is a lengthy explanation of some predictions inherent in Darwin's Theory of Evolution, and how they have failed. The logical premise of the argument is that the simplest explanation is usually the correct one. A theory which becomes too complicated with modifications and falsifications should be scrapped in favor of a better and more parsimonious model. Such is the case with (Macro-)Evolution, according to article author, Cornelius Hunter.
I'm not going to rehash Hunter's article; I leave it to the reader to enjoy the reading firsthand. What I want to do here is to use the same argument with the Mormon faith.
Man-made religion is and has always been an attempt to explain the overall picture and gain a correct worldview. Who we are, why we are, where we are going, and who or what put us here... there are factual answers to these questions. Each religious theory put forth by men will eventually fail because we human-beings are just too limited in our understanding. God must GIVE US the true religious model because He is the only one who knows everything.
Now, the LDS Church believes itself to be the one true church on earth, restored from fallen Christianity. If it is what it claims to be, we can then expect that its set of predictions will hold fast. If it is not the one true church, we can expect to see its predictions fail. Did God give Joseph Smith, Jr. the truth, or did Joseph build his church upon his own religious hypotheses? This is something we can know. Let's look at some of the inherent predictions, and their outcomes.
If Mormonism were true...
1. ... Joseph Smith would have been able to consistently, accurately, remember his visit from two separate supernatural beings, God the Father and Jesus the Son. We now know that is not the case (for more info, see here, here, and here).
2. ...the LDS "truth" that there are at least two gods, our Heavenly (spirit) Father, whose name is Elohim, and Jesus (Elohim's son), whose spirit-name is Jehovah, would have been consistent since Mormonism's beginnings. Instead, the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith's first work, preaches that there is only one (modal) God (see Alma 11:26-31, 2 Nephi 31:21, Mosiah 15:1-5 for example). Joseph Smith originally taught that Jesus' father's name was Jehovah, and Brigham Young, Mormonism's second prophet, taught that Heavenly Father was actually Adam, the first man on earth. Joseph also originally taught that of the three members of the "Godhead," only Jesus had a body. That of course is no longer Mormon belief.
3. ...the Book of Mormon, a book that is supposed to contain the "fulness of the gospel," would teach on the plurality of gods, man's potential for godhood, eternal marriage in Mormon temples, baptism for the dead, three degrees of heaven, and the other beliefs that separate Mormonism from orthodox Christianity. Not only does the Book of Mormon not teach these things, it and the other LDS scriptures frequently contradict current Mormon truths, and each other.
4. ...there would be evidence of a large battle on or around the Hill Cumorah in New York, and other archeological evidence to support the notion of Book of Mormon life on this continent. Instead, LDS apologists are still struggling to locate and identify possible Book of Mormon geography sites (see also here and here).
5. ...the Book of Mormon would not contain Greek and French words like "adieu" and "Jesus" and "Alpha" and "Omega." It would not speak of things that had not yet been invented. It would not contain quotes from the KJV Bible, including KJV mistakes. It would not abuse the phrase "it came to pass" in all of its books but two. It would not contain country-boy vernacular. But it does.
6. ...when portions of the papyri used to create the Book of Abraham were recovered and translated, the text would be very similar to what Joseph had written. Instead, just as you would expect if Joseph Smith had bought merely a couple of random mummies that had been found in an ordinary catacomb from a man with many mummies and scraps to sell, the papyri has been discovered to be common Egyptian funerary documents.
I could continue making this list, but I think I've made my point. If Joseph Smith did not actually have the "First Vision," if he personally wrote (instead of translated from ancient golden plates) the Book of Mormon, if he personally wrote the Book of Abraham... these things are Mormonism's foundational blocks. Are they missing? The failed predictions indicate that they are, indeed, missing. Thus the "restored" doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a bad religious theory, and should be scrapped.
Monday, January 10, 2011
We talked about what life would be like for those young fighters. But what really got my attention was a scene in which one Marine is holding a Bible and the other, seeing him, asks with a sarcastic smile whether he is a believer. I always tune in to these TV portrayals of apologetics and this one turned out to be a good opportunity to examine a type of challenge that many Christian apologists will face.
The scene unfolds with the questioner asking the other Marine to confirm that God created everything, including the Japanese soldiers that are trying to kill him. The believer's response - "free will, what we choose to do" – wasn’t bad. But since he's God, the questioner persists, he knows what we are going to do before we do it. "Predestination" is the believer’s unexplained response. The questioner then springs the apparent trap: “So the whole game is fixed while we're down here, for what, his entertainment? That makes us chumps or God's a sadist and either way I got no use for him."
No answer to this challenge is offered. Instead, a question is asked: “So, what do you believe in?” The questioner answers quickly: “ammunition.” This of course draws a laugh. He ends with the request that the other Marine ask God to sink a few transports so he can get out of there and go home.
Great dialogue, from a theatrical standpoint, but it left the issue hanging unresolved. I was debating whether to weigh in when I saw my son looking over at me with a growing smirk. "Well?" was all he said. When he paused the video, I knew he wanted - needed - an answer.
"Don't start with an answer," I told him. "Take a closer look at the challenge. What's wrong with it?" That helped, I think. His eyes lit up and he said, "He's offering only two alternatives."
"That's right," I responded. "Presenting two loaded options like that prevents a meaningful discussion. It's like the question, 'have you stopped beating your wife?' Either a yes or no answer constitutes an admission. The presence of evil in the world - the moral evil brought on whenever a state of war exists - does not mean that we are either chumps or that God's a sadist. Many other options are available for the thinking person."
I reminded my son that not every challenge is actually asking for a persuasive response. Here, the questioner isn’t really saying he doesn’t “believe” in God. He’s really indicting God, telling the listener that he is angry at a God that would allow great suffering to occur.
I suggested to my son that the questioner may not have been ready for an actual answer. What he needed, perhaps, was someone to listen, to sympathize and to let him know that answers are there, when he’s ready to actually engage the question. Perhaps the best we can do it such a situation to answer with a challenge of our own: “are you really interested in hearing an answer to the challenge you pose, or are you just letting me know what you think of God?"
Hipster Christianity (Interview with Brett McCracken)
In this podcast, Jim takes a short sick leave (he's down with the flu) as he airs a past interview with Brett McCracken. Jim did this interview a few weeks ago when he was guest hosting the Stand to Reason Radio Show. Brett talks about the impact that the desire to be "hip" (or "cool") has on the character of the Church. What happens to the nature of Christianity when we seek to make it hip? Brett also talked about the nature of worship.
Check out the podcast homepage for subscription information and archives.
Wednesday, January 05, 2011
Today in America, atheists stand before courts and utter a similar cry. Their targets are not evil empires suppressing the will of the majority, but rather symbols -yes, symbols - of Christianity. Their latest effort - to tear down the cross on Mt. Soledad in San Diego - appears to have met with success, as yesterday the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal declared the cross on Mr. Soledad to be unconstitutional.
I offer here no commentary on the wisdom or validity of the legal reasoning employed. Suffice it to say that the Founders would no doubt be surprised that the land they envisioned in which freedom to worship was to be scrupulously honored has become a land in which every vestige of public expression of faith must apparently be wiped away.
The removal of the Berlin Wall marked the beginning of a new freedom for the people trapped behind it. Does the atheist really believe that he is enhancing American freedom by pressing for the removal of all Christian symbols? What freedom is actually at play? The freedom to not see the symbols of a faith that one doesn't share? But the Mt. Soledad cross wasn't erected to offend or to suppress, but instead to honor fallen soldiers, many of whom were Christian. Its offense, apparently, is that anyone viewing it would deem it a "government endorsement" of a particular faith. Really? In America today, can you find anyone so lacking in awareness of his surroundings and the culture in which he lives as to conclude that a Christian theocracy is actually running government?
The atheist reminds me of the child who, not liking the game that's being played, takes his ball and goes home. The thought that perhaps he can erect his own symbol to honor fallen atheists is, understandably, not appealing. (What's the point, after all, of honoring oblivion?) He must stop others from drawing solace from their beliefs. But when he seeks to prevent others from expressing their sense of devotion to those fallen in the service of their country, and in the cause of peace, he betrays the emptiness of his own belief system.
Many committed Christians are no doubt angered at this development. Might I suggest that pity is a better response. This particular cross may be torn down, but the shadow of The Cross will always cover the Earth, and in the end, every knee will bend. But seeing the pettiness that drives these efforts, a bit of sympathy may be our best first response.
Tuesday, January 04, 2011
The Top Ten Christian Trends of 2010 (and "Who Created God"?)
In this podcast, J. Warner examines the common atheist objection: "Who Created God"? Is there a reasonable response to this question? In addition, J. Warner takes a look at the top 10 Christian Trends of 2010 as identified by Charisma Magazine.
Check out the podcast homepage for subscription information and archives.
Sunday, January 02, 2011
And so, the Christian apologist must take on the burden of proving that miracles are indeed possible, that the Creator can - and did - intervene in His creation. A daunting task, to say the least. CS Lewis does a masterful job of meeting this burden in his book “Miracles.” Reading it would make a great New Year's resolution.
When pressed to provide a layman’s response, the apologist can present the logic of the theistic position. If the universe had a beginning, as science tells us it did, then it is reasonable to conclude that something before and beyond it must have existed from which the universe derived its existence. The universe is an orderly place; in fact, the exquisite fine-tuning of the universe is becoming increasingly apparent to scientists. What existed before and beyond the universe must have set these rules – these laws – into motion. It is reasonable to conclude that a Being capable of such marvels of engineering and intelligence would have little trouble in intervening within those laws if He saw fit. Take the Lord’s first recorded miracle – turning water into wine. This of course happens all the time, through the "miracle" of nature, as long as there is sufficient time and the just-so effort of the vintner. That His control of time and of nature could allow this to occur more rapidly really isn't all that difficult to imagine. No more difficult than a computer programmer changing the rules of a simulation he created to favor one outcome.
But the believer is not the only one who must provide an explanation for the existence of what we see around us. So too does the atheist. What plausible answer does the atheist have for even one of these four basic questions: how did the universe arise from nothing? Why does it operate according to fine-tuned laws? How did life emerge from lifeless material? How did consciousness arise from total darkness?
The real miracle is that atheists continue to believe in an explanation so lacking in explanatory power.