Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Desert Delusions 2: Wile E. Strikes Back

AA is at it again, and the fact that he is falling for the “Turkel trap” (oblivious to the fact that that has been an obsolete reference since July 2007, and making him more than 6 years out of date) tells us well enough how poorly what follows from him turns out to be.

He starts by denying that the material in other chapters of HC was over his head, using the excuse that he was tackling my “main arguments, which I felt were best represented in the chapters [he] responded to.” I am well aware he said this. I also maintain it is nevertheless the case that it is all over his head. 
My “main arguments” are in all of the chapters, not just those he carefully selected in order to do a substandard evaluation that would please the gullible and easily satisfied who have already made up their minds. 

I noted that by his logic, Christianity is actually Judaism, and Judaism deserves blame for the Holocaust. His response is that this “is about as logical as blaming the Model-T Ford for modern day car accidents.” Precisely my point. What I offered is a reduction ad absurdum of his own logic, in which he tries to blame Christianity for the evils of the Holocaust. As first century Judaism has no bearing on the Holocaust, neither does Christianity as founded in the first century have any bearing on Positive Christianity. First century Christianity, as HC showed in great detail, was not the same as the ideology “that was most prevalent and cited by those committing the atrocities” in Nazi Germany. So either way, he again undermines his own contention, though he is too insensate to realize this.

AA dismisses my review of Ehrman’s LC because he “didn’t see anything of value,” but as usual, this is a flaw in his own scholarship (rather, lack thereof), not a reflection of the quality of the review. Like Ehrman, he simply throws up his hands claiming we cannot know what orthodoxy is, and whines that I did not cite a source for the claim that “pre-NT Jewish Wisdom theology” [...] backs up the Niceans.” Like I said, AA…you just need to do your homework, especially on matters I have written on in depth.You’re behind as usual.

I did not at all miss AA’s point regarding alleged “many contradictory passages supposedly spoken by Jesus.” Rather, I pointed out that I have already done the necessary work refuting such contentions. Significantly, AA commits the same slapdash effort in analyzing my material on Lataster, saying “[m] any of Holding’s claims are answered in the book itself, “ but failing to give a single example – no doubt knowing that if he tries to do so, he will again prove himself lacking in the intellectual arguments department.

I asked for an evaluation of how much of the canon must be rejected before AA decides someone is not a Christian. Not surprisingly, I don’t get an actual answer, just a babbling complaint that his point was that “even other sects of Christianity removed most portions of the bible…” Yes, we got that. Now I want to know, again: How much of the Bible must a sect remove before AA decides they are not Christian after all? I’ll ask it again and again until he decides to answer it with something quantitative. If he does not, I will assume he has no answer, and has no answer because he knows that if he does answer, he will have to admit that the Positive Christians must be excluded from Christianity proper.

On works and salvation, AA ignores my link to material on Semitic Totality, which is not surprising, since that too is over his head. He complains that I do not deal with the verses he quoted like 2 Peter 1:5-11 and James 2:26. If he had read and understood the material on Semitic Totality, he would have known how to interpret those verses properly, in terms of those works as the natural product of faith (pistis, or loyalty), and thereby realized that it is foolish to speak of them in terms of saying, “works are just as important as right belief when it comes to salvation.” As Semitic Totality makes clear, works and belief simply were not separable in that fashion. It is like saying an effect is just as important as the cause when it comes to a total experience. At the same time, AA falls for the idea that “salvation” in the Bible means the modern sense of a moment of decision; whereas, as scholars rightly detect, the word has a broader meaning in terms of the entire Christian life of covenant entrance and rewards. Again, though, I expect such complex ideas are simply over AA’s head, as his “scholarship” on this side comes from sources like Josh McDowell and televangelists, not from serious Biblical scholars.

I noted that AA missed what I said about the difference between matters of action and matters of doctrine, and that the Sermon on the Mount has no doctrine, so of course Goebbels could readily accept it as a Positive Christian. AA wisely ignores my point about Gandhi as a believer in the SoM, and claims not to have missed the main point about the SoM  because he responded. He obviously now misses that a perfunctory response, that misses the point, isn’t a response. Clearly AA is either in over his head again, or else pretending to be. In any event he still misses the point: Whether the SoM “does contain many central teachings of Jesus” doesn’t erase the fact that not one of those teachings has anything to do with doctrine. Therefore Goebbels as a Positive Christian could accept it and still be considered part of a pseudo-Christian cult.

My extended point on the burden of proof regarding the beliefs of everyday Germans is ignored. AA does not even try to fulfill his burden and merely once again resorts to the easy and lazy way out of bleating, “No True Scotsman!” Yet in order for him to show this fallacy to be in action in my work, he needs to fulfill the very burden I describe and show that the deviations of the church in Nazi Germany did not break it off from authentic Christianity. In other words, just claiming there is a fallacy at work doesn’t work unless the data is shown to be in accord with that claim. He says  he “see[s] no point in speculation” – which amounts to an admission that he is unable to make as thorough an argument as I did, no doubt because such would require more than the slapdash effort of  a Google search which is what he is accustomed to doing as a form of depth research.

He denies that we ought to be agnostic about the Nazi leaders’ beliefs because the “Nazis left historians more than enough information to assess their religious beliefs.” As a matter of fact, so did the everyday Germans as a whole. That’s my point. And now it is AA’s unfulfilled burden to show that that is not the case.

On race and the Bible, I first referred to prejudice based on race not being found in the Bible and referred to classical scholar Frank Snowden’s book Before Color Prejudice. AA professes to be “dumbfounded” that I thought he was referring simply to race, which is indeed pretty dumb to be found, since that is not what I said in the least. Snowden’s idea is indeed that there was no prejudice based on race. The fact that AA sees a need to now clarify his words and say that he was referring to “prejudice-based racism” shows that he bungled the job beforehand.

In any event, apparently in an effort to displace Snowden, AA claims to find such racism in the Bible, but as usual, he is traipsing through another culture in bigoted ignorance. The refusal of Abraham to allow Isaac to marry a Canaanite, and the refusals associated with Nehemiah, had specifically to do with their observance of religious beliefs contrary to Judaism, not their race or national origin. It might be added that in the social world of the Bible, it was taken for granted that if you were a member of X ethnic group, you were also a devotee of the gods of that group. In the same way, missionaries in Japan have encountered the difficulty of witnessing to Japanese who say that because they are Japanese, they are also Shinto. This has nothing to do with prejudice-based racism.

AA also employs Niditch’s observations concerning David’s killing of two out of every three Moabites, such that he was allegedly “employing genetic selection to weaken Moabite stock.” One fails to see how this qualifies as racism Perhaps AA does not know the difference between racism and eugenics. In any event, AA should have been more careful and not simply trusted Avalos’ quotation of Niditch. Niditch actually says, “Some have explained this passage by suggesting that David kills the tallest and ablest men, allowing the runts to live as if David were employing genetic selection to weaken Moabite stock. In fact, David is pictured to be coldly more arbitrary, claiming for himself the godly power of life and death.” So Niditch actually denies the “eugenics” explanation – and would, of course, since David would have no idea how eugenics worked.

AA also rather naively suggests that I read Isaac’s The Invention of Racism in Classical Antiquity though we can be quite sure he never read it himself, other than scattered quotes from Google searches. I would recommend that AA take notice of a scholarly review of that work found here, which shows that Isaac isn’t as helpful to his case as he thinks:

The provocative title itself whets the appetite for something iconoclastic, since most of us in Classics have been raised in the belief that racism, as we usually conceive it, was absent from the Greco-Roman world. So it is almost disappointing to see, even before one has finished the text of the front-cover dust-jacket, that the eye-catching word "racism" has been softened to "proto-racism," in essence, racism without its modern pseudo-scientific component, and the identification of elements of proto-racism becomes the principal goal of the work from that point forward. Even so, the author's vast documentation of the less edifying aspects of Greek and Roman attitudes and behavior toward other peoples near and far has a powerful and sobering cumulative effect…
If one is looking for "racism" or "proto-racism" in antiquity, one has to define the terms with some care. Isaac has an extended statement on "racism": "An attitude towards individuals and groups of peoples which posits a direct and linear connection between physical and mental qualities. It therefore attributes to those individuals and groups of peoples collective traits, physical, mental, and moral, which are constant and unalterable by human will, because they are caused by hereditary factors or external influences, such as climate or geography. The essence of racism is that it regards individuals as superior or inferior because they are believed to share imagined physical, mental, and moral attributes with the group to which they are deemed to belong, and it is assumed that they cannot change these traits individually" (23). The fall-back expression "proto-racism" is subsequently defined more simply: "The term proto-racism, then, may be used when Greek and Latin sources attribute to groups of people common characteristics considered to be unalterable because they are determined by external factors or heredity" (38).

In both these definitions, one misses what might have been thought an essential element in "racism," namely, the irrational and usually violent hostility directed at individuals or groups, who typically become victims of the dominant group in ways that go well beyond the realm of "attitude." The only hint of this aspect of "racism" comes in the phrase "regards individuals as superior or inferior," a curiously anodyne expression which hardly seems adequate to sum up what racists have said and done in the last century, to mention no others. 
This soft-focus approach has consequences that emerge in the quoted definition of "proto-racism," where even the element of superiority vs. inferiority has been removed, leaving the word's meaning shorn of the one powerful quality that would justify the linkage (and baggage) which the word "racism" itself automatically carries. Thus defined, "proto-racism" might without contradiction encompass positive feelings about a group to which common (admirable) characteristics might be attributed and considered unalterable by reason of hereditary or other determinism. That would surely be an unexpected and undesirable result.

So, nice try, AA, but next time, you’d better do a little more research. What you quote from Hippocrates isn’t “racism.” It’s stereotyping, which was done by ancient peoples based on things like national origin and religion – and it was also done to one’s own group. (“All Cretans are liars.” – a Cretan) None of this was based on race, which means it isn’t racism – which is precisely why Isaac was forced to qualify. Maybe you’d better do some legwork in the social sciences before spouting off again.

I asked about whether AA thought the readings of von Liebenfels were valid exegeses of the Biblical text. He deftly ignores the question as though it were merely a vase of “disparaging” von Liebenfels. It is no answer to say he “had a lot of knowledge about the bible…” I asked, and I’ll ask again: Are his interpretations of those Bible passages valid, or not? Quoting back a passage from the Quran (!) doesn’t answer this question. Nor does it do to say there are “parallels” (a rather vague retort; there are also “parallels” between a Yugo and a Ferrari, but I am sure AA would not want to cruise NASCAR in the former on that basis). I am asking if AA is actually so ignorant as to think that von Liebenfels’ exegesis of the texts is accurate. If it is, then I expect AA to demonstrate this by showing that reputable Biblical scholarship provides the same or similar interpretations; e.g., that they agree that describing Esau as “hairy” is somehow making him animalistic. Likewise, just because Hitler alluded to Lev. 17:11-14 does not mean he came up with a correct contextual interpretation. Surely AA can show us that some scholarly source agrees with Hitler’s interpretation. Well, no, actually, he can’t; he is so insensate to his burden f proof that he thinks that the mere recitation of such an interpretation makes it valid.

AA denies his epic failure regarding the rivalry of geography, and “Judeans” vs Galileeans and Samaritans, not Romans and Greeks. He quotes a passage from HC supposedly to opposite effect, but notably, it says the very thing I said – that the issue is geography, and  versus Galilee and Samaria, not Greece and Rome:

”The Jews”. Another broad case of perceived anti-Semitism is found particularly in the Gospel of John and his designation of opponents of Jesus as “the Jews” (John 5:16, 7:1, 10:31). Critics assume that it is justified to append these references with a contemptuous sneer, as might have been done by an agent of the Gestapo. Literally, however, the word used by John, and throughout the New Testament, is not “Jews” but rather, Judeans – meaning, someone who is native to the land of Judaea, the Roman province at the time of Jesus. In John especially, this word should be understood in contrast to references to persons from Galilee and Samaria (cf. 4:39, 4:45), who, from a religious perspective, also considered themselves to be religiously Jewish. When John refers to Jesus confronting “the Judeeans,” this reflects a rivalry of geography, not religion.

This quite obviously does not suit AA’s purposes, so he evades the issue by claiming it is my burden (!) to show that religious dislike was not intended! This first of all evades his error of confusing Greece and Rome with Galilee and Samaria, in my arguments. Second, it can obviously not be a religious issue because they were no religions called “Galileeanism” or “Samaritanism.” There were, however, provinces named Galilee and Samaria. All of those there were considered Jews. So perhaps AA can explain how Jews were “anti-Semitic.” AA is clearly the one lacking attention – to say nothing of serious scholarship.

Regarding the synagogue of Satan reference, AA claims that what I said “bares no relationship” to what is in HC. Um, yes, it does. I said in HC that it referred to a local group. In the reply to AA I said that it was an “issue that ONLY the people of Smyrna and Philadelphia are aware of.” That means “local”.  I also didn’t say AA distorted my argument, I indicated that he failed to refute it. Beyond that, he can’t seem to grasp (again) that internecene language between two people of the same race or ethnic group cannot be “anti-“ that group. Just as African-Americans can use the “n word” amongst themselves, and not have it be taken as racist, so likewise Jews among themselves can be insulting and not be anti-Semitic. John was a Jew. Is this really so hard for AA to grasp? (He also rather embarrassingly admits that the great John scholar Raymond Brown agrees that the references were local, but professes not to understand how this makes it less “anti-Jewish.” Clue: How is an African American using the “n word” less racist than a Caucasian using it?)

AA denies the inadequacy of his treatment of 1 Thes. 2:14-16, and continues to fail to address critical details, notably, that Paul himself was Jewish, and that the language he uses mirrors Old Testament condemnation language. So is the OT anti-Semitic? He also cannot seem to engage my point re original sin, as it is over his head; as usual, he thinks it sufficient to throw his hands in the air and whine that we can’t know who is correct. Well, yes….I imagine it is beyond him to decide who is correct on any difference of view, even what we ought to have for lunch. I gave my arguments in the article linked. His only reply is that he thinks it makes no sense. That’s a fine statement of his intellectual inadequacies, but it isn’t an answer. It’s also not much of a summary of my article to boil it down to, “Holding objects to the doctrine of original sin because it is ‘unfair’.”  Somehow that’s all AA’s limited mental horsepower can distill from critical scholarship.

Re Matt, 27:23, AA claims I excluded part of his response, but the part of his response excluded was more than covered by what I said. AA was denying that both uses of the “blood” remark could mean innocence because they were different situations. I classified that retort as a non sequitur. His response is to merely re-affirm that the “blood” statement in Matthew in an admission of guilt – in other words, the very claim my original argument refutes. It might be nice if AA actually tried to advance the argument a step rather than going backwards five.

It is claimed I ignored other anti-Semitic passages, but really, what needs to be ignored is AA’s highly imaginative attempts to find anti-Semitism where none exists. Acts 3:12-19 is a forensic description of what happened in the Gospels. What is “anti-Semitic” about that? So likewise the other passages in Acts --- and again, all of these things are said by Jews, to Jews. So how can there be any anti-Semitism? N word analogy, anyone?

For the final round, I demanded that AA provide some objective criteria to justify the inclusion of Positive Christians under Christianity. Needless to say, no such answer comes forward. I gave my arguments in the text of HC. AA provided nothing of substance in negation, as we have seen. He will never lay out objective criteria, such as how much of the canon one must reject for AA to disqualify them as a Christian, because if he does so, he will be forced to provide an evaluation that can be critiqued and analyzed – and that’s the last thing he wants.

As noted, AA thinks that Josh McDowell (!!) is the best to be found on the issue of the canon. You would never know that many serious scholars like Metzger, MacDonald, and others have treated these issues in much greater depth. That’s because AA is a hack, content to “research” using whatever he finds by way of a Google search, plus the limited number of books in his personal library, all by persons who say what he wants to hear. 

I’ll ask again: How much of the canon must a person reject before AA no longer considers them a Christian?

Watch him dance.

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