Friday, October 2, 2015

The Petrus Romanus Fraud

With Jonathan Cahn licking his wounds, and John Hagee with his tail between his legs, this July 2012 E-Block item seems...prophetic in its placement.


 Just maybe, after the failures of teachers like Edgar Whisenant and Harold Camping, the church has finally had enough. We can only hope so!

For the next few issues we'll be counting down to the "expiration" of the equally new and outlandish latest fad in eschatology; namely, the work of Thomas Horn, joined also lately by putative apologist Cris Putnam. Their recent book together, Petrus Romanus [PR], consists of nearly 500 pages of conspiracy theory that would be equally at home at a showing of the Zeitgeist movie. An earlier book by Horn, Apollyon Rising 2012 [AR2], offered some of the same at an earlier date, and as you may guess , both of these authors are on the "2012 end of the world" gravy train. We were here in 1988 and it didn't work out well. Thankfully, so far, it’s getting far less attention this time around.

But, as an object lesson for those still not healed by observing the fates of Whisenant and Camping, we'll do our own "countdown" in which we check out the major claims of these two books. We'll start with the central claim of PR, which is that there is a hint of an end to come in an obscure little "prophecy" attributed to an 1100s century bishop known as St. Malachy, which gives us the hint that once the current Pope, Benedict XVI, takes his last breath as pope, the one after that will be the last of the papal line -- and perhaps even (gasp) the false prophet who will usher in the age of the Antichrist.

Malachy allegedly experienced a vision revealing to him what became a document known as "The Prophecy of the Popes" (POP). Beginning with Celestine II (d. 1144), Malachy purportedly offered a series of pithy Latin phrases that are (supposedly) somehow prophecies of each successive pope. In all, that's about 140 "predictions" (though as we'll see, they hardly deserve to be called that).

You may already suppose that there would be problems, and there are -- even ones the authors acknowledge. For one, they agree to disregard about half of Malachy's prophecies because they believe the Catholic Church may have tampered with them, and we have no earlier manuscript than the 1550s. So, about 70 of the 140 are dispensed with before PR reaches page 20 out of 500. They also admit that many credible scholars have argued the whole thing is a forgery, though for the sake of argument, we will assume it is not, at least from the 1500s on, as the authors allow.

The authors then allow that in some cases, the Catholic Church -- apparently convinced this thing had some validity -- may have purposely rigged papal votes so that someone suitable to the "prediction" was elected. Or, they suppose, a Pope may have in some way seized on his assigned "prediction" in order to fulfill it. In the end, they don't seem to regard this as enough of a possibility to be worried that it makes their case a sham, although they should have.
I put "predictions" in quotes because these aren't "predictions" at all -- they're just very short Latin phrases, usually 2-3 words each, and with that length there is as much hard content as a bowl of Jello. [I won't even get into the whole problem of why they bother to use a prophecy from a source like the Catholic Church that they identify with waywardness. The rationalizations (e.g., "God often uses the most unlikely people") speak for themselves as circular reasoning and/or a desire to see only what they want to see.] The authors also note another author's assessment that past 1590, Malachy's mottos have an 80 percent accuracy. The bad news is that by Deut 13, that would get Malachy 100% stoned.

The authors, at least, have the sense to admit that critics say the phrases are vague enough to be twisted to be seen as fulfilled in anything. [42-3] They even allow that this is a "major weakness" and that only a few of the prophecies are precise enough to pass the test. The bad news for them is that their best examples are far worse than they realize, and we shall spend the balance of this article examining what they apparently take to be their "best case" fulfillments.

Leo XIII, 1878-1903 - Phrase: "lumen in caelo," "light in the sky."

"Light in the sky" could mean just about anything, and that should really be enough to dismiss this one as worthless. But the authors excite themselves with the observation that Leo's coat of arms "features a shooting star." Since Leo had this coat of arms long before being pope, they believe this is particularly impressive and a "compelling fulfillment."

No such luck here! The vagueness of the motto is shown in that other sources, like the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia, read it rather as fulfilled in calling Leo a "veritable luminary of the papacy" and specifically states that we don't need to bother with things like a coat of arms. Another Catholic site sees a fulfillment this way:

Leo XIII wrote encyclicals on Catholic social teaching that were still being digested 100 years later. He added considerably to theology.

Obviously, if the motto is vague enough to accommodate such diverse readings, it is worthless as a “prophecy.” And of course, many popes could be vaguely described as "a veritable luminary" (for whatever reason) rendering such a description equally worthless.

The authors’ rendition of a shooting star is likewise unhelpful. What escaped them on this point is that stars -- or, as they are sometimes called, estioles -- are standard symbols for a coat of arms, just as they are standard symbols for national flags. Leo has one. John Paul I (1978) had three stars of five points each. Pius X, the predecessor of Leo XIII, had one star, as did Gregory XVI (1831-46) -- and so did several other popes. Some others had more than one star; some had none.

But, also of interest is that Leo's coat had more to it; namely, a tree and two fleur-de-lis (keep this in mind). That triples the chance to make some sort of connection, especially with a vague phrase like "light in the sky." One could readily connect this to one of several comets discovered during Leo's reign -- even those not visible in his area (as we shall see, this won't stop the authors in another case, so it need not stop us here), such as the "Comet Wells" in 1882.
Thus, this "fulfillment," far from being "compelling," is useless.

Pius X (1903-1914) - Phrase: "ignis ardens" (burning faith).

As with the above, and for the same reasons , this one is easily deemed useless. The authors unwittingly admit as much when they point out that some apply this to a star on Pius' coat of arms (while failing to see how this affects their explanation concerning Leo XIII!), but choose instead to apply it to a vision Pius had of Rome burning. One may as well apply it to Pius having a liking for good barbeque, or having a tendency to get rashes or sunburn, or (more seriously) to some ardency of spirit on some issue. The aforementioned Catholic site adds its own variation as follows:

The Pope had great personal piety and achieved a number of important reforms in the devotional and liturgical life of priests and laypeople.
At least the authors have the decency to call this one "debatable." Actually, it is worse than that. It is worthless.

Benedict XV (1914-1922) - Phrase: "religio depopulata" (religion depopulated)

For this one, the authors figure they have an ace in the hole with the fact that during Benedict's reign, the following happened:
  • "World War I was devastating to the Catholic Church", though how this is so is not explained, nor is it explained how the war was any more or less "devastating" to the Catholic Church than to any other body or group. Put another way, the prediction means very little unless "religion" was specially and uniquely "depopulated."
  • 200 million people left the Russian Orthodox Church, having either left to join the Bolshevik revolution or been killed or persecuted by Communists. The authors cite figures of 43 million killed by Stalin, and 61 million killed by the Soviet Union. Their conclusion: Religion was "heavily depopulated during this period" and the prophecy offers "breathtaking accuracy."
Hold your breath. Once again, the vagueness of the terms causes a problem. The authors have allowed "religion" to be so vague as to encompass more than one religious tradition, which means all one would have to do is to find, during any papal reign, some instance of some religion, somewhere, suffering "depopulation" -- such as 7 million Jews in the WW2 era, or perhaps a million in Rwanda; or one might even appeal to Muslim deaths in the Iran-Iraq war.
Then, there's a real slipperiness, also, with "this period", where the 200 million figure doesn’t add up. It was hard to get accurate figures in this turbulent time when there was little means to conduct a rigorous census, but sources I have consulted place the population of Russia in 1914-1917 in the lower 100 millions. Furthermore, Stalin ruled and did his deathly work well after the reign of Benedict.

As such, it seems patently dishonest to use deaths from outside Benedict’s reign to fulfill this one. The Catholic site, by the way, also uses the Bolshevik revolution as a fulfillment, but only because it established Communism, not because of deaths, while another conspiracy theorist connects the motto also to millions of Christians being killed by the Spanish flu!

Pius XI (1922-1939) - Phrase: "fides intrepida" (intrepid faith).

"Faith" is so vague as to be of no use.; all popes ought to have that. Beyond this, the authors seem to have a hard time finding a way to make Pius X "intrepid." They note that the dictionary definition is: "calm, brave and undisturbed." Noting an instance where Pius X made a deal with Mussolini to restore power to the Vatican, the authors ask plaintively, "Perhaps 'cold and calculating' fulfills this one?"

Sorry! No it doesn't. This prophecy is a fail.

The Catholic site proves the vagueness of this phrase by applying it entirely differently:

This Pope stood up to Fascist and Communist forces lining up against him in the lead up to World War II.

Pius XII (1939-1958) - Phrase: "pastor angelicus" (angelic shepherd).

There is tremendous irony in this one. The authors uncritically accept the badly debunked findings of John Cornwell that Pius XII was too chummy with the Nazis, and so end up suggesting, rather lamely, that since Pius claimed the title for himself, it must be an "ironic sort of fulfillment." So, now they have made it so that even a complete 180 of the phrase can be a "fulfillment"?

In that light, Pius' real record as a benefactor to persecuted Jews actually does make a better fit for "angelic shepherd" -- not that it matters, since any pope with a decent heart could have fit this as well, and many of them would qualify. However, we may be thankful that the authors did foul up so badly by using Cornwell, since it helps expose their poor research skills, and their ability to strain and stretch the Malachy mottos to the breaking point in order to force a "fulfillment." (For the refutation of this see Dalin’s The Myth of Hitler’s Pope, and see the link below: Cornwell’s deception begins on the front cover with the picture!)

Adding to the proof of the vagueness of this motto, the Catholic site ignores all of that and sees the fulfillment this way:

This Pope was very mystical, and is believed to have received visions. People would kneel when they received telephone calls from him. His encyclicals add enormously to the understanding of Catholic beliefs (even if they are now overlooked because of focus on the Second Vatican Council, which occurred so soon after his reign).

John XXIII (1958-1963) - Phrase: "pastor & nauta" (sailor and shepherd).

Half of this prophecy , at once, dies a painful death since every pope could be called a "shepherd" in their very role as pope. So, can we find that John was ever in the navy somewhere? Or, maybe the merchant marines? Maybe he had a rubber ducky as a child?

Not even close. The authors strain for a match by noting that John was the "patriarch of Venice," where there are a lot of gondolas and a "nautical street system" (apparently meaning the canals). If that's the way they want to play it, then any port city overseen by the papal candidate at some time in his career would make them qualify, and they don't even have to get on the water for a split second to make this work. John wasn't a sailor, and if being "patriarch of Venice" fulfills this prophecy, then I too fulfilled it by having North Miami Beach as my hometown. Or, it could be fulfilled by getting a nice anchor tattoo that says MOTHER, or even eating a lot of spinach to funny music.

The authors underline their own foolishness by telling an uncertain story of how one papal candidate allegedly hired a boat, stuck some sheep on it, and rode up and down the Tiber River on it as a way to demonstrate a fulfillment to the papal conclave. This ought to be a warning to the authors (but it isn't) that a living pope, with only rare exceptions, has more than enough time to figure out a way to make himself an "intrepid fire" or a "light in the sky", or to fulfill any number of other conditions. Of all the mottos we will see here only "religion depopulated" seems like one that could possibly be beyond their control as popes. However, even then, it would not be hard to force some fulfillment by finding a religious massacre, or else making some statement about how Protestants, et al, are simply outside the fold of the true Catholic Church, which is declared to be "THE" religion. Effectively then, we just "depopulated religion" by merely defining it more closely. It also does not occur to the authors that the papal conclave (for whatever reason thinking these mottos meant anything) purposely chose a man from a port city to strain a fulfillment.

Finally, regarding John XXIII, it is worth nothing that he was only patriarch of Venice for 5 years, from 1953 to 1958. He was born in a mountain city of Italy. He spent a lot of time in that area and also spent some time in Bulgaria. If this “prophecy” can be fulfilled by spending any amount of time in a port city, it is just that much more worthless.

Paul VI (1963-1978) - Phrase: "fios florum" (flower of flowers).

The authors here return again to heraldry, and their effort is no more successful. They point out that Paul had on his coat of arms a fleur-de-lis, which means "flower of lily." As before, though, this fails inasmuch as the fleur-de-lis is a fairly commonplace symbol. It is not even, as the authors claim, "unique to (Paul) among the papists," for as we have seen, it was part of Leo XIII's coat, and is also found in the coat of arms of John XXIII, Innocent X, Leo XI, Pius IV, Paul III, Clement VII and even Leo X of the famous fake “Christ a fable” quote. You can also find the fleur-de-lis in not a few famous places, ranging from the flag of Quebec to the helmets of the New Orleans Saints football team.
The authors claim that "flower of lily" matches "flower of a flower" "quite well" but it doesn't match it "well" -- it only matches it 50%. And, since it would hardly be any chore to somehow intentionally fulfill this, especially with a 15 year reign, this motto also fails miserably in terms of authentic and meaningful fulfillment.

John Paul I (1978) - Phrase: "de medietate lunae" (from the midst of the moon).

Here the authors think they have a whopper of a match, since John Paul was: 1) ”born in the diocese of Belluno" (and "luno" is Latin for moon); 2) John Paul ascended the papacy "on the precise day of a half-moon in its waning phase."
A "compelling match", as they say? Hardly! Again, the papal conclave would have little difficulty saying, "Hey, here's a guy who was born in Belluno. Ding. Forced match." (Not that this works anyway; the name of the city came from a Celtic phrase “belo dunums,” meaning “splendid hill”) And, if they hadn't had a guy from a place with a name like that, no problem because by just making sure his first day of service was on the half-moon day wouldn't be terribly hard (i.e., just dawdle in the conclave as long as needed so that it all works out). The authors' own records showed that it could take as long as 15-20 days to pick a new pope, and since there are two half moons, there were 2 chances each month to pin the tail on the donkey.

If all that failed, any papal candidate could have easily anticipated time to work out some fulfillment. John Paul ended up without that, since he died only a month into his reign, but he could hardly have known that would happen. As it is, a dawdling conclave makes for the quickest and easiest fulfillment.
We'll close by adding that the authors also uncritically accept the conspiracy theory that John Paul was poisoned. As with their acceptance of Cornwell's nonsense, this again reflects poorly on their research skills.

John Paul II (1978-2005) - Phrase: "de labore solis" (from the labor of the sun).

Yet another "light source" motto would make this an easy fulfillment in any event, but the authors, and Malachy, seemingly, got very lucky with this one. It is pointed out that John Paul was born during a solar eclipse, albeit one over the Indian Ocean, far away from Rome! And, he was also buried during one, albeit again, far away from Rome (over South America and the Pacific). Since it doesn't seem to matter to the authors (or maybe Rome) where a "fulfillment" occurs, even without the eclipse, it would not be hard to find something that would work like: sunspot activity, exceptional heat over some location, or even cloudy conditions where the sun "labors" to peek through the clouds. Also, it would not have been hard to delay John Paul's funeral to accommodate an eclipse. As it is, it took place 6 days after his death, but since he was born during one, this was just obvious "icing on the cake". And, of course, the papal conclave could easily select John Paul on that basis of having been born during a known eclipse. But, if they did not have such a candidate, there is, as noted, plenty of time to figure something out, especially with such a vague "prophecy."

As further proof of how useless this is, the Catholic site acknowledges the eclipse, but also suggests John Paul might have fulfilled it because he “comes from behind the former Iron Curtain (the East, where the Sun rises)” or “might also be seen to be the fruit of the intercession of the Woman Clothed with the Sun laboring in Revelation 12 (because of his devotion to the Virgin Mary).” Another conspiracy theorist connects it to John Paul’s origins in Poland, the “star of communism” or “sun of the workers.” Only Acharya S could do a semantic sashay to beat this one.

Pope Benedict XVI - Phrase: "gloria olivae" (glory of the olive).

The authors, by their reckoning, make this one a self-fulfiller, and it is an easy one. All Cardinal Ratizinger had to do, by their notion, is to pick the name "Benedict," for the olive branch is the symbol of the Benedictine monks. With typical “Left Behind” fervor, the authors also suppose this might connect to the soon fulfillment of the "Olivet Discourse", offering a series of potential future connections to Antichrist-like actions, which are little different than what we have heard from past failures like Hal Lindsey.

In contrast, the Catholic site rejects the connection to the Benedictines and goes for the idea that maybe Benedict XVI will be a peacemaker, a bearer of the “olive branch.” Given that it would not be hard for a pope, as a respected world figure, to find a way to do this somewhere during his reign, I don’t expect that will be hard to fulfill. It should be noted that before Ratzinger was elected, some speculated that it would be fulfilled by the election of a pope with “olive” skin (e.g., someone from Latin or Central America, or maybe someone of Jewish descent, relating to the olive tree as a Jewish symbol). Just more proof of how useless these “prophecies” are!)

We have thus seen that the ten most recent Malachy "fulfillments" are either gross failures or are so vague that they could be easily and readily "fulfilled" in any number of ways -- especially given that Popes had their entire reign to work something out, and papal conclaves had every ability to make the process easier. We might add that past mottoes were no more difficult to fulfill, such as:
  • Pius VIII -- "religious man" (gee, how many popes has this one missed on?).
  • Innocent XIII -- "from good religion" (that's a hard one to match when you select from a conclave of bishops who are already considered to be part of a "good religion"!).
  • Alexander VIII -- "glorious penitence" (not hard -- either find a guy who did a lot of penitence; or have him do a lot of penitence during his reign; or have him issue some papal statement about the subject – one conspiracy-monger claimed it was fulfilled because Alexander’s surname was “Peter,” who denied Christ and then repented!).
Other mottoes may have been harder to fit -- such as Innocent XII, "rake in the door" (?! … supposedly fulfilled because his surname was the Italian word for “rake”), but given all the available options for intentional fulfillment, and the vagueness of the mottoes, Horn and Putnam are doing no more than engaging in eschatological con artistry. For whatever reason, the Catholic Church is apparently wanting to match on these mottoes, but that in turn makes it worthless as real prophecy (a point that escapes Horn and Putnam completely).

According to the list, up next is the authors' title character -- Petrus Romanus, or Peter the Roman. Horn and Putnam think this will be the false prophet. The Catholic Church, of course, does not see it that way, and I suspect they are thinking, "well, thank goodness, we'll be done with this list after this guy" and fully expects to continue the papal line without having to worry about making some sort of match to Malachy's list.

I imagine Horn and Putnam would be little impressed, no more so than Whisenant or Camping were when elements of their case were debunked. They would say we are missing the forest for the trees, and that their case was more complex (though we'll take on more aspects as we proceed with this series), or come up with some other sort of holier-than-thou threats of the wait-and-see variety.

Well, we will wait and see … and when Horn and Putnam find themselves on the ash heap of history, along with Whisenant and Camping, I'm sure we'll also see the same sort of skilled rationalization we got from those characters.


Friday, September 25, 2015

The Paul Fan Club: Craig Winn, Part 4

From the July 2012 E-Block.


We shall now close with the final four chapters of Winn's tendentious reworking of Pauline theology, which, as before, consists of over a hundred pages that contain substance amounting to less than one page. 

Chapter 9 promises to reveal, after much drama, "the most vulgar words ever spoken in the name of God." First though, Winn must enter into inarticulate nitpicking with such comments as this by him on Gal 4:21:

If Paul were writing for God, he would not have said "speak to me." Nor would he have begun by saying: "the Law cannot hear." He would have written "Listen to Yahweh." More importantly, he would have told his audience that they can hear God’s voice by reading the Torah. The purpose of Yahweh’s Word isn’t to "hear us," but instead, the Torah exists so that we can listen to God. Paul has this all wrong.

Why is this the case, other than that Winn says so? Winn fails to enlighten us. Rather, this is simply another example of how Winn creates his own artificial idea of what constitutes holiness, and then rails against Paul for not meeting his idea. There is, in fact, not a thing wrong with "speak to me," (or "tell me," as alternatively rendered), especially when the point is that Paul is challenging with a question. Saying, "listen to Yahweh", therefore really doesn't aid in such a purpose.

On "the Law cannot hear," this is merely Winn's tendentious reworking of what real scholars, like Witherington, render as "do you not hear the Law?" How ironic that Winn here accuses Paul of "deplorable writing quality," and calls Paul "childish" for this remark, when it is his own incompetence as a translator that is the problem. Even more outlandishly, a non-expert in these matters yet again accuses the professional translators of trying to cover up the true translation to make Paul look good.

Egregious nitpicking continues as Winn remarks on Gal. 4:22:

In actuality it is not "written that Abraham had two sons," because from Yahweh’s perspective Abraham only had one son. That is why God asked Abraham in Genesis 22:2 to "take your son, your only son, whom you love, Yitschaq, and go to the land of Mowriyah..."

It is hard to believe Winn is serious here. Despite all of this, is he denying that Ishmael was Abraham's biological son? What about the fact that even the OT calls Ishmael his son (Gen. 16:11, 15; 17:23, 25, 26; 25:9 -- named with Isaac as his "sons"! -- 25:12)? Topping absurdity on absurdity, Winn further declares that Paul should only have mentioned Ishmael if he wanted to illustrate that "Ishmael was expressly excluded from the Covenant and demonstrably banished from the Promised Land." Actually, this is the message, as intelligent and informed readers would understand by Hagar's position in the analogy, but then again, since Winn holds to the absurd notion of the new covenant as a continuation of the old, this would not occur to him. Indeed, his assumption on this point becomes a basis for further misplaced criticism.

So, after some time…we finally get to where Winn presents the alleged “Most Vulgar Words,” which he says caused him paralysis over his computer keyboard. But spare the drum roll: it is only Gal 4:24, where Paul explicitly says that there are two covenants, the former of which, Paul says, involves persons now in bondage because they have rejected the new one. Actually then, there is really nothing new here for us to address even though Winn does turn on the waterworks for a few paragraphs, and even manages to threaten those who accept Paul's words with eternal annihilation. In the end, it is merely old news that we have covered in earlier installments. The one "new" point we might note is that Winn somehow thinks it relevant that the word "covenant" is never rendered in the plural -- a triviality that proves absolutely nothing, in as much as all it tells us is that there was no prior context within which a plural was useful.

Winn hereafter engages an extended excursus on Sinai geography, which is useless enough that it need not detain us here. He then merely repeats himself expressing the erroneous idea that the covenant is a singular, and repeating at times arguments that we have already dealt with in earlier installments (such as the use of 'olam, and Matt. 5:17-19).

There is a striking irony in Winn's attempt to use Ps. 19 to argue against Paul. Paul had argued that no one is justified by the Law, not because of any fault in the Law, but because no one, practically speaking, meets its perfect standards. Winn petulantly replies by noting Ps. 19, which he reads as saying that such justification is possible. This is wrongheaded in two ways; namely, that it is absurd to use a psalm -- an item of poetry, subject to such literary practices as exhortation like hyperbole -- to correct a literal realism; and second, which escapes Winn dramatically, is that David -- the author of this Psalm -- was living proof of just how impossible it was to be justified by the Law.

Winn also offers yet another skein of assumptions based on word structure as he lays into Paul for using the Greek word systoicheo. He lists several words with allegedly unpleasant connotations, but the time he wasted making this list should have been spent looking more closely at the actual word. The first part, the sy- prefix, is connected to a common word meaning “in union with” which is used as many times in the NT as you would expect such a word to be used (over 100 times). That means even Jesus is in on the bad influence because he used part of this naughty word. The second part, stoicheo, comes from a word that simply means to walk in an orderly line.

The words Winn digs up all start with the sy- prefix, and as you may expect, one may be “in union with” either good or bad things. Winn chooses only words with a “bad” connotation, ignoring or twisting with spin those with good connotations (e.g., systatikos, commendation, he twists to mean “introduce a new concept”; syssōmos, “belonging to the same body,” he ignores; systratiōtēs “fellow worker/laborer,” he also ignores; systrepho, which means to twist together in a bundle, he misreports as “to twist something so as to alter its intended meaning or purpose").

After this, little can be extracted that is new. Winn strains Paul's comments about Sarah overboard to the point that he thinks Paul treats Sarah after the manner of a Virgin Mary and is trying to see her as the fulfillment of OT passages about the Holy Spirit. In this Winn simply vastly over literalizes obvious (and clearly labeled) allegory. Further on, the following bit of insanity is worthy of note:

To affirm the Christian affinity for "the Lord," all you have to do is open your favorite "Bible." No matter the translation, you will find Yahuweh’s name replaced by Satan’s (a.k.a. Ba’al’s) title, "the Lord," 7,000 times.)

Really? So Satan deserves the titular crown of "Lord" but God does not? It escapes Winn that "lord" is a functional title, of one who exercises lordship. If I were Winn, I might suggest that the person writing this is a tool of Satan who is denying that God has mastery and lordship over creation, which is actually held by Satan. But I suspect the irony would bypass such a person.

Chapter 9 continues in this vein for some time, with nothing new emerging from it as Winn merely repeats the same errors multiple ways, and closes with Winn yet again having the audacity to condemn a series of sources -- some of them scholarly -- as though it were he who were the expert. He goes as far as to even refer to some of them as "anti-Semities" because they do not buy into his ridiculous ideas of a single covenant. Not surprisingly, Tekton material isn't one of the sources he managed to find.

Chapter 10

Winn now begins his root canal on his version of Galatians 5, and what is new to find is scarce. Here is what is left that is not merely variations on the same prior themes.

We have previously noted that Winn cannot even be consistent on whether a person must be circumcised to be saved. Ch. 10 weighs on the "must be" side of his tongue, as he offers to "ponder Yahweh’s express position on Gentile circumcision." What Winn finds is Ezekiel 44:5-9, which condemns Israel for allowing uncircumcised persons into the Temple, but which has absolutely nothing to say about it being required for the salvation of Gentiles on an all-time basis, save under Winn's use of tortuous exegetical disco which turns two covenants into one -- as well as by illicitly expanding the "Temple" to mean God's covenant community for all time.

Winn also goes ballistic over Paul's expression stating that he wishes those troubling the Galatians would emasculate themselves, in part because he takes it with utter literalism, but also because his understanding of ancient rhetoric is negligible. Moreover, he apparently missed passages in the Old Testament like Malachi 2:3 which speak of dung being wiped on people’s faces.

Somehow, Winn gets the notion that, "Paul simply wants Christians to abstain from sex." However, he reaches this conclusion mainly by having the sort of prudish mindset in interpreting Paul that he accuses Paul of having.
Getting fairly nitpicky, Winn has a few comments about Paul's list of vices to avoid:

Fourth, Paul’s Galatian epistle, second only to the Qur’an, is among the most "eris – quarrelsome and divisive" texts ever written. So if "arguing" is wrong, so is Paul. Similarly, dichostasia, translated "discord," but meaning "division and dissension," describes Paul’s letter—a document which disagrees with everyone including the Galatians, the Disciple Peter, and God.

Ironically, Winn's error is much the same as that of Richard Carrier, who reads it as "debate"! As we replied:

Fifth, zelos is most often used in a positive sense. It defines the "fervor of spirit and attitude" Yahshua desired, but found lacking in the Laodicean Assembly—the very people who lacked the Spirit. Zelos speaks of "pursuing a mission with great passion and fervor and to warmly embracing a loved one." So, since Yahshua considers zelos to be a good thing, methinks Paul was adlibbing here.

No, Winn is merely a poor scholar. He admits that there is a negative sense of zelos, and so there is, one that means quick temper of anger (Acts 5:17, 13:45; Heb. 10:27, Josephus Ant. 15.82, per Witherington, 400). Winn is merely arbitrarily choosing the positive connotation out of hatred for Paul -- never mind that the context is a list of vices!

This absurdity deserves a comment:

..the primary meaning of eritheia, translated "selfish ambitions," is "electioneering—the process of running for an elective political office." So by using it, Paul is demonstrating his hostility to representative government and democracy.

While this was indeed the meaning of the word in its classic origins (Witherington sources that meaning in Aristotle), by Paul's time the negative connotation existed also -- and it would be rather difficult for Paul to "demonstrate hostility" to a form of government that was not extant at the time of his writing. People of this era primarily sought offices through patronage and favor, not by running for office seeking the popular vote.

And seventh, hairesis literally means "choice." It defines the act of "choosing" and is thus foundational to "freewill." Based upon haireomai, it means "to select for oneself, to prefer, to choose, to vote, and to elect." From Yahweh’s perspective, freewill is unassailable.

Winn's error is the same as Dan Brown's in The DaVinci Code; namely, failing to recognize the negative connotation of this word that was regularly used as well.

Komos, translated "public partying," is a problem for another reason. It actually describes "a festive assembly featuring feasting and merrymaking," and is thus synonymous with the Hebrew word chag, describing the nature of Yahweh’s Called-Out Assemblies: "Festival Feasts." Paul may be a kill joy, but God likes to party.

In Paul’s defense, komos was associated with the festival honoring Bacchus, the counterfeit Messiah whose annual winter celebration was renamed "Christmas." But, as with most of what Paul has to say, his lack of specificity is his curse.

In reality, this is yet another case of Winn being tendentious.

Chapter 11

Winn now moves to Galatians 6, and there is again little new. Near the start, paranoia reigns supreme:

The problems begin with "prolambano – may have previously detected or caught." This is very similar to the Qur’an asking Muslim children to spy on their parents and turn them in to the authorities if they suspect them of rejecting any of Muhammad’s orders or teachings. It was how most everyone in Stalin’s Russia and Hitler’s Germany were controlled. It was the spirit behind the Salem Witch Trials in America. And it is how professors, politicians, priests, preachers, and media spokespeople are compelled to walk a conforming path today. It is the operating mechanism behind Political Correctness.

It is also the normal way in which behavior was controlled in a collectivist society like the NT world -- though without the military and government enforcement of a Muhammad, Hitler, or Stalin. All of it was person to person. Here again, Winn's ignorance of the contexts causes him to create a tendentious reading. So likewise here, on Gal. 6:4-5:

But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For every man shall bear his own burden.
The last two verses are at cross purposes with each other. One says that if someone presumes that they are important, then they are deceiving themselves. But then he says that we should examine everything we have done so that we can boast and glorify ourselves.

What fails Winn here is that in the agnostic world of the NT, there was a certain proper level of "boasting" that one was expected to do -- saying neither too much nor too little of one's self, but telling the truth. Thus, Winn is far out of line to accuse Paul of duplicity, and far out of context to follow this up with a sermonette against it.

Perhaps the biggest shock of all -- Winn actually falls for the horrifying "Galatians burdens" contradiction allegation (Gal. 6:2 vs 6:5). This is one of most misinformed charges of contradiction from the Bible, and that Winn falls for it -- the sort of thing only "fundy atheists" fall for -- speaks volumes for his lack of competence. He adds to the error by pitting Is. 53:6 against both verses:

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Winn reads this to mean, "Yahweh has already removed the burdens of all those who have availed themselves of Yahweh’s gift," but it is outlandish to apply this as though it meant all literal "burdens" -- such as poverty, hunger, or personal troubles -- have been erased! Galatians has nothing to do with "forgiveness," as Winn thinks: It has to do with the communal sharing of trial and subsistence. At the same time, he is being tendentious to read “iniquity” in terms of the sort of burdens Paul refers to.

One cannot but see irony in this:

It says that "those who are taught the word of God" which is code for "Evangelical Christians," "should provide for their teachers, sharing all good things with them," which is code for "pay your pastor a generous salary and provide him with a nice house and a munificent living allowance." Not surprisingly, the authors of the NLT were money-grubbing preachers.

Given Winn's record as a businessman, the scent of hypocrisy is hard to ignore!
Nitpickery is offered regarding Paul's reference to sowing the Spirit:

And while it is a technical point, we don’t "sow the Spirit." We can sow the seeds of truth by conveying Yahweh’s Word, and we can invite the Ruwach Qodesh into our own lives and receive Her, but that is all we can do. The notion of "sowing to the Spirit" isn’t sound literally, operationally, metaphorically, allegorically, or Scripturally.

Why not, other than that Winn is looking for a complaint? Sowing as a metaphor means to invest in and cause to be furthered (grow). In this case, Paul uses Spirit as an antithesis to flesh, a broad reference to world interests. "Spirit" thus becomes, by parallel, broadly a reference to the interests of God.

Turning from Paul briefly, we learn something interesting about Winn's Christology -- he is a sort of docetist, and therefore a heretic:

... Yahweh’s Spirit left Yahshua’s body and His soul on the upright pole so that His physical body could die and so that His soul could descend into She’owl for the express purpose of enabling the promises of Pesach and Matsah.

It is hard to say exactly how bad this is, since Biblical anthropology has soul = spirit + body, and Winn seems to conflate soul and spirit as though they were of similar nature. He recommends that the reader consult his earlier book, and perhaps we will be so masochistic as to do so later.

Paul closes Galatians by remarking (6:11) with what large letters he writes. So obsessed is Winn that he cannot even leave this alone:

To begin, Paul wrote "elikois – as old as and as tall as," not "pelikois – how large and how great." Elikos is from elix, "a comrade of the same age, height, and status," and thus elikos is said to mean "as great as," in addition to "as old and tall."

Winn is badly out of touch here, as usual. As Witherington reports, elikos is merely a "classical form" of pelikos; "the meaning is the same." [440] Thus, Winn's conclusions from his erroneous assumption are disposable. The next absurdity: Winn reads Gal. 6:17 as Paul saying that he has a tattoo! Real scholars relate this more frequently to scars Paul received during persecution, but Winn merely uses his own hatred to dismiss Paul's reports of being persecuted as non-credible.

And, closing Galatians, Winn also closes with the absurdity that "Amen" refers to the Egyptian deity Amun; sadly, he not only spells Amun wrong (with an E!), he also shows his incorrigible ignorance of the very Hebrew culture he claims to care for, as we have written:

Some argue that the word "Amen" (first used in Numbers 5:22, and thereafter a lot in Deuteronomy, and on up into the NT) was somehow derived from the Egyptian god Amun-Re, with the implication that in using the word we are thanking a pagan god. Here's a corrective for that idea from Marvin Wilson's Our Father Abraham [182ff]. The word "amen" is part of a family of Hebrew words stemming from the verb aman, to believe or trust. (Gen. 15:6, "And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.") Other related words are emunah, "faithfulness" or "steadfastness" and emet or "truth."

Looks like the Torah, by Winn's reasoning, is paying tribute to a pagan deity also! “Amen” is also used throughout the NT by writers Winn approves of (Peter, John, even Jesus!) so apparently they’re all corrupt as well But he has an excuse for the OT usage too, albeit not very coherent:

And lastly, when transliterated and capitalized, rather than translated, "Amen" is the name of a pagan god—the sun god of Egypt. Had the Greek transliteration (amane) of the Hebrew word (‘amein – pronounced aw•mane) been translated "trustworthy and reliable," then the pagan association would have been eliminated. But alas, it was deified.

So now, apparently, Paul is to be held responsible for choices made by English translators 2000 years later!

Chapter 12

There is little new in this particular rant; having assumed to have proved Paul guilty, Winn proceeds to judge Paul by the standards of Deuteronomy 18 and Matthew 24. He then diverts into questions regarding the other letters of Paul (which he allows as having "some" "encouraging" material), and implicitly promises more volumes on those letters later (I can't wait...can you?). Another extended (and extended, and extended) diversion discusses the suggestion that maybe Paul did not write Galatians (which Winn, and we, reject). An enormous portion of the chapter is devoted to a "highlight reel" of Winn's arguments over previous chapters, or to extended quotations of Scriptural warnings against error that Winn assumes to have proven Paul to be qualified to fulfill.

Then Winn embarks on incoherent speculations concerning Paul's motives. His analysis proposes that Paul was an insecure, egotistical person seeking attention. Such analysis fails from the start as having no connection to personality models available in an honor-based society. He also manages to propose that Paul was a failed rabbinical student who never knew a mother's love and struggled with homosexuality, but this of course never gets beyond hateful fantasy or into the realm of real evidence. Winn, of course, also proposes that Satan deceived Paul -- no unscholarly conspiracy theory could be complete without Old Scratch blacking out the light!

Winn arrogantly concludes with warnings and pomposity of this order:

If you are still a Christian, and are clinging to the notion that Paul spoke for God as opposed to Satan, and that his epistles are Scripture, you are now without excuse. The foundation of your religion has been torn asunder...If you are unwilling to do these things, appreciate the consequence. The souls of those who continue to believe Paul and reject God will cease to exist at the end of their mortal lives. And for those who promote Pauline Doctrine, which is essentially the religion of Christianity, you have made yourself God’s enemy, and as a result your soul will endure eternal separation from Yahweh in the Abyss. Don’t say that you were not warned.

Indeed! We may rather speak here of the calculated arrogance and indifference of a corrupt, failed businessman who presumes to know Greek better than credentialed scholars; who makes outlandish claims of the sort fundy atheists would offer; who creates tendentious twists whenever evidence fails him, and who sees the need to spray warnings of hell and damnation liberally about his text. Winn represents well all that is wrong with the modern church, and it is sorrowful to realize that he has deceived anyone at all -- but he could not have done so but for the widespread ignorance the church has unwittingly fostered. Winn is another example of our bills come due.

Friday, September 18, 2015

The KJV Only Atheist

I'm pleased to provide this week another posting by guest Cameron English.


Atheists typically don't know a lot about Christianity. This is true of prominent critics like Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers, as well as the run-of-the-mill atheists you may stumble across on YouTube. Indeed, much of the apologetics material available today exists simply to correct skeptics who have a poor understanding of Christian history and theology, because their arguments often crumble as soon as you inject some good scholarship into the debate.

One of the best ways to expose their ignorance is to tell the skeptics that they share a lot common ground with fundamentalist Christians on a variety of important issues. This approach highlights the fatal flaw in their argument by comparing them to the people they most detest. It's terribly effective.

Having recently reread James White's The King James Only Controversy, I think there's another, often overlooked, way to expose the fundamentalist tendencies of the skeptical crowd: compare them to the King James onlyists. Though their motivations are very different, both groups foolishly believe that some kind of conspiracy produced the Bible as we have it today, and they often make the same arguments in support of this thesis.

If you're unfamiliar with the King James only advocates, they believe, as their name suggests, that the only trustworthy English translation of the Bible is the King James version. Modern translations like the NIV or NASB are "corrupt" and were produced to intentionally distort the text.

Anybody with a cursory understanding of the textual history of the Bible knows that that's not correct, but atheist are liable to say something remarkably similar. Richard Carrier, for example, argues in The Christian Delusion that many verses that made it into our Bibles "were snuck in later by dishonest Christians," a point JP Holding called him out on during a debate a few years ago.

Proponents of King James Onlyism are fond of alleging that such dishonesty was rampant among the scribes who copied manuscripts that belong to the Alexandrian text-type, because they weren't utilized by the King James Translators. But as even Bart Ehrman points out in Misquoting Jesus, most of the changes that were introduced into the text were unintentional--misspellings, slips of the pen etc. And when the scribes did make intentional changes to the texts they were copying, it was because they thought they were correcting the mistakes of previous scribes.

The similarities go deeper, however. Both atheists and KJV onlyists will note discrepancies between different manuscripts, often citing the same passages, to support their corruption charges. The only difference is that the latter mindlessly defend the Textus Receptus. But in either case, we can rely on New Testament scholar Dan Wallace for an answer: the original readings of the text are preserved in the extant manuscripts. Moreover, the textual variants both groups cite are usually insignificant, not affecting any serious Christian doctrine. There's no reason to believe that no reliable translation of the Bible exists today, or that the KJV is the superior translation.

In a roundabout way, White discusses this similarity in his book, explaining that KJV onlyism makes the practice of apologetics harder by attacking some of our oldest and best New Testament witnesses. "In other words, King James Onlyism cripples its adherents apologetically in a day when such can have devastating results." (p 88)

So be sure to tell your skeptical friends, their understanding of textual criticism is identical to that of the crankiest, most irrational, tradition-driven Christians who have ever lived. Hopefully that will give them pause before attacking the textual reliability of the New Testament again.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Religion Makes You Stupid!?

Today, a guest post by Cameron English.


Every few years, a psychologist at a university somewhere around the world publishes a study linking religious belief to poor critical thinking or a lack of intelligence. Given their controversial nature, these studies generate a lot of media attention and headlines like this begin popping up in Google news: Belief In God, Critical Thinking Butt Heads.

These papers are not only very common, but they're usually flawed to the point of being useless, and they all tend to share the same flaws. So in order to preempt the next bogus study, we decided to produce a generic rebuttal you can use to debunk this particular brand of bad social science research, whenever it makes an appearance.  

As a science writer, I've lived by a rule over the last few years that has served me very well: the more scandalous the headline, the shoddier the research behind it. Count on it. “Religion makes you stupid” studies are a textbook example of this rule in action. We're going to focus on two primary issues to illustrate why this is so.

 The first problem to look out for is one that plagues other sciences as well: reliance on self-reported data. More specifically in this case, studies linking religious belief to a lack of intelligence are usually based on surveys filled out by college undergraduates.

These students make convenient study subjects if you're a university researcher, because you don't have to pay them much (if anything) and they study where you work. But they're also still in their formative years, only just beginning to grapple with important questions—like whether or not they believe in God— so their understanding of the world is very malleable. Research also tells us that we get smarter as we age. Drawing conclusions about how religion affects the broader society based on what undergraduates tell you is a pointless exercise, then. 

But let's use the headline I mentioned above to explore the problem in more detail. Participants in that study were asked to perform critical thinking exercises like answering math questions, and those people were less likely to give affirmative answers to questions about faith ("what role does faith play in your daily life?") compared to a control group.

That may seem like an interesting study design at first glance, but I could run the same experiments  and demonstrate that critical thinking has no impact on religious belief. All I would need to do is enlist scientists who also happen to be religious (50 percent of scientists fit this description) and subject them to the same critical thinking tests. Would this hypothetical study have found that critical thinking hampers faith? Given that many scientists today (many throughout history did as well) actually see their work as confirming their religious beliefs, I'd say the answer is no.

Of course the flaw in the study design should be obvious at this point: the results change based on whoever happens to be involved. A more accurate interpretation of the data, I suggest, is that the less educated people are, the more likely critical thinking will pose a problem for how they view the world.

Now this leads us to a couple of important points about framing. How you define and measure intelligence greatly influences the results of these studies. Does a person's IQ accurately reflect how intelligent they are? Possibly, though math and vocabulary tests can't tell you much about general intelligence, and those are precisely what psychologists rely on when they want to correlate intelligence with certain behaviors or beliefs.

The bigger problem with how these studies frame the issue, though, is their definition of “faith.” For the purposes of the studies we're discussing, “faith” is usually defined as an evolved behavior, a gut reaction to natural phenomena that our ancestors had no better explanation for. In essence, they take Mark Twain's definition of faith and dress it up in evolutionary psychobabble.

But it's inaccurate to treat religious belief as something people cling to based on intuition and absent evidence. People do, in fact, become religious as a result of careful, critical study. The field of apologetics is a testament to that fact, and it also belies the evolutionary explanation that religion exists solely because believers are too dumb to comprehend the world around them.

In many cases, the problem isn't the belief system that people embrace, but how they approach it. In reality, all people are liable to avoid critical thinking depending the circumstances. There's nothing special about believers in this respect. Confirmation bias an unfortunate characteristic of human nature: people are prone to believe what they want to believe regardless of the evidence, Christian, atheist, or Muslim—it doesn't matter. We all have to be conscious of our own biases.

So the next time one of these studies makes headlines, remember the rule: the more scandalous the headline, the shoddier the research behind it. A careful look at the study will probably confirm that you're dealing with junk science.