Thursday, August 1, 2019

Kissing Joshua Harris Goodbye

From the September 2014 E-Block -- in light of Harris' recent profession to have deconverted, this looked like a good time to bring it out.

**

At reader request, we're having a look at Joshua Harris' I Kissed Dating Goodbye, a rather aged book at this stage, but one that remains a subject of some controversy. Reviews of this work on Amazon indicate strong love-hate relationships with Harris' advice, with some claiming his work saved their lives, and others claiming it ruined them.

I should begin with a few disclosures.

Firstly, as of this year, my wife and I will celebrate 24 years of fruitful marriage together. In my younger years, I dated only two girls; my future wife was one of them, and we dated for roughly five years. So Harris' advice would have obviously not been of any use to me personally.

Secondly, in the Biblical world, and in many cultures even today, people are married as early as ages 12-14, and marriages were arranged by families, often with the bride and groom not meeting until the wedding day. While this may shock us, it should be kept in mind that 1) there was no perception of what we regard as young adulthood (an in-between period of half-childhood, half-adulthood); 2) romantic love as we know it was virtually unknown; 3) if nothing else, this was a frank recognition that sexual urges were so powerful that they had to be channeled into legitimate avenues as soon as possible. I will not here debate the virtues of this system, nor suggest we revert to it: It is far too late for us to do so anyhow. I will suggest that we might do well to learn from that system, and understand why it was followed.

Thirdly, Harris makes it plain that his advice is not for everyone. He does not think everyone should stop dating and shift to his courtship model, but it is clear that he does strongly advise people to do so. His text is rife with qualifications that he does not consider his system a panacea. For my part, I rest in saying that the real problem isn't the system, but the people: Abuses will happen no matter what the rules are, as I think even Harris will admit. He thinks abuses are less likely under courtship parameters. I very much doubt that would be the case due mainly to the fact that our social world is too individualistic for that to be true. Harris has the right problem, but the wrong solution: The source of the problem lies much deeper than our rituals of mating.

With all of that in mind, let's now look at the contents of the book (hereinafter referred to as IKDG).

Harris' main motives, at least, are honorable: He believes that dating can be a distraction from God, one in which people focus too much on each other and not enough on God. He also believes that dating can encourage self-gratification over pleasing others, and over the long-term good of others; that it compromises our ability to see members of the opposite sex as brothers/sisters in Christ; that it leads us to compromise our service to other Christians as we focus overmuch on one person; that commitment should precede intimacy, and so on.

Harris' solution takes the form of a sort of days-of-yesteryear courtship: We should cultivate friendships with members of the opposite sex, initially and exclusively, until we perceive that we find a person who is a match, coupled with only seeing them socially in group settings, especially settings in which both parties serve some godly end (like at a church function). Then the male of the pair should seek permission for courtship, which will involve social gatherings with the female of the pair's family and friends. In the end, physical contact of all kinds, including hand-holding and kissing, is reserved until the wedding day.

Is this workable? Yes and no. The problem, as noted, is not the system, but as Harris acknowledges, it is instead that we are in a society that "celebrates self-centeredness and immorality." [36] The Biblical world knew little or nothing of the former aspect of that equation, which was considered deviant behavior and would be punished. In that light, the success of Harris' courtship model will be entirely dependent on the ability of each person to control those self-same tendencies, as would also be the case under a dating model. (And obviously, one of Harris' themes, that people need to make sure that they are "ready" for marriage, would have earned him nothing in the Biblical world but a blinding stare: You were never asked if you were ready, you just did what your family told you!)

Quite obviously, each person's tendencies towards self-centeredness varies. One person may succeed in both models (dating, courtship). Another may succeed in only one but not the other. Some may well fail under both! And Harris seems like he would admit this, as he (again) frequently qualifies his advice as not for everyone. This would also go far in explaining the love-hate reviews on Amazon. Among the "hates" is a reviewer who said they followed Harris' model and ended up in an abusive relationship. Obviously, no method will be foolproof: You can be just as distracted from your work for God during a courtship as you can be under a dating model.

In the end, I'd advise readers to see Harris' efforts as merely food for thought, not solid and comprehensive advice. It has some good pointers, such as not skipping friendship as part of a relationship (my wife and I were best friends as we dated, and still are as a married couple). In Biblical terms, Harris has nothing unique to offer; what few texts he finds to support his contentions, save in the most general sense, do not support any particular relational model. Perhaps his most outlandish exegesis is borrowed from Gregg Harris (an expert in homeschooling!) who claims that the story of Isaac meeting Rebekah while she was watering camels illustrates that Rebekah was better able to meet her husband because she was doing the domestic duties she was supposed to be doing. [157] That's a rather strained lesson to draw from the text, especially when most spouses of the day were put together beforehand by their families.

Finally, as some have pointed out, Harris was merely a youth pastor when he wrote this book; he is not an expert on relationships, much less a psychologist. His work falls into that unfortunate category of writings by non-experts who get a pass simply because they are pastors and/or have "life experience." Harris has a tendency to universalize his own weaknesses and assume his problems are everyone else's. The success of his book with some reflects the fact that inevitably, some of his problems will be other people's problems, too.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Christian Behrend Doscher's $20,000 Promise


One of Christian Behrend Doscher’s most egregious attempts to deceive me took place in 2008 while he was posing as “spirit5er” on TheologyWeb. It took me until 2016 to find out the whole truth.

While I was engaging him in debate on TheologyWeb in 2008, Doscher challenged me to a debate in front of my church and said he would pay me $20,000 for that debate. Because of a crash, the TheologyWeb version of that thread no longer exists except for a bit of it in an archive. But Doscher preserved a version of those events on an atheist forum that same year. Here’s what he said in a message dated October 6, 2008:

I accepted Holding's $20,000 price tag for an oral debate at a location, date and time of his choosing, on a biblical subject of his choosing, in front of any audience of his choosing, then asked for the name and number of his pastor to facilitate the deal, guarantee his promise to debate and transfer the money. Nope. He refused to give the information on his pastor (like Holding really goes to church?!), unless I PM'd him with an electronic scan of my bank statement showing I had at least $20,000 in my account. When I objected that people sending bank statements to people they don't know on the internet is absurd, and they can be easily photoshopped anyway (bank statements being little more than letters, lines and numbers, how hard is that to alter?), he replied that he knows experts who can tell whether a scan that shows my name and money-amount, has been photoshopped or not. As if the prospect of meeting personally with his pastor to facilitate this deal upon his agreement to debate, was somehow more prone to deception and falsification than his ridiculous face-saving suggestions.


I had plenty of suspicions about “spirit5er” so I never told him a thing. I also strung him along about his offer of $20,000, knowing that it was likely to be false. I had no idea just how false it was until 2016, when I started collecting documents from Doscher’s old lawsuits in the midst of his libel lawsuit against me.

By way of background, in 2007, Doscher briefly worked for Swift Transportation, a leading trucking company. He resigned from that job on July 31, 2007, over an issue involving a traffic ticket and a refusal to drive his truck. In June 2009, he filed the first of a series of lawsuits related to these events. I won’t get into details on those cases here. What I want to highlight is this snippet from a document he filed in that case:



(Doscher v Swift, Motion for Summary Judgment, October 2010, p. 60)

So, let’s put the pieces together. In 2008, the same year he was often homeless and living in his car, Doscher was also offering me $20,000 to engage him in a live debate. This was in spite of the fact that he couldn’t even afford to spend the money for gas needed to turn the heat on in his vehicle in the dead of winter.

It’s kind of ironic. In 2008, he offered me $20,000 he didn’t have to pay me for a live debate. In 2016, a judge ordered him to pay me just over $20,000 to cover my attorney fees. One way or the other, he’s destined to pay me that amount someday. It just remains to be seen how.


Wednesday, November 28, 2018

I Am Second, II: Some Facts About That Libel Lawsuit

In an entry for this blog some time ago, the theme was “I am second” – referring to where I had reached on the list of freelance contributors to the Christian Research Journal. This entry is about another “second” I’ve also reached, of an entirely different kind – and unlike last time, it’s not about an achievement. It’s about an effort that’s been made to destroy all that I’ve worked for the past 20 years, and how it’s destined to fail.

Readers will recall that in 2015-16, I was the subject of a libel lawsuit. The plaintiff sued me in his home state and lost on the grounds of his state’s court lacking jurisdiction over me as resident of another state. He then sued me in my home state of Florida, and he lost here as well. The end result is that he now owes me nearly $27,000 at present, which is a combination of just over $21,000 in attorney fees plus two years’ interest.


He makes public statements about the money I spent. He’s less inclined to mention more than that about it.


Well, then. It’s time to reveal some facts about this individual, as well as explain why “I am second” with respect to something related to him.


His name is Christian Behrend Doscher. Here are a few facts about him.

When he sued me, he already owed more than ninety thousand dollars in debt. Some sixty five thousand of that was from other legal debts he has incurred over the past several years due to losses in court.

With the debt to me added, he would now be over $110,000 in debt. Among those debts, he owes more to me than he owes to any other party save one. That is the sense in which “I am second” in this instance. I am his second leading creditor.

That’s what he doesn’t seem inclined to mention when he talks about that $20,000 I spent and posts about it in various places: That he now owes me every cent of that money, plus interest, by court order.

He will not be paying me back any time soon, though. That’s because he is, in fact, long term unemployed, on disability, and indigent. He has been unemployed for at least eight years. He lives off disability checks and food stamps.

And now, he has threatened to file a third libel lawsuit against me – or rather, against my former ministry Apologetics Afield, which is now defunct. So why is Doscher suing a dead company, rather than me personally?

Maybe he’s trying to make me first in terms of who he owes money to instead of second?

Or maybe, he’s too frightened of me to face me one on one in a court of law, knowing that I know as much as I do about his past and about his litigation history.

Doscher sometimes objects that people don’t know the whole story about his lawsuits against me. He has said they need to hear more of the story.

Well, I agree.

I have started a new journal that I have titled DoscherLeaks, which is part of a website I have about the lawsuit. In that journal, I will be presenting copies of several documents related to Doscher and/or to his lawsuits against me. For openers, we have this. It was a bankruptcy filing he made in September 2015, shortly after he first sued me. In that document, he lists his income and his assets as of September 2015. (I had originally planned to make this and much more part of an ebook, but I have since decided that this format has more utility.)

Here are some interesting facts related in the bankruptcy paperwork:

His total debt at the time of filing was $89,391.84.

$10,677.50 of that was on a student loan.

One of his possessions is a set of “vintage nail clippers” valued at $2.

He lists his prior lawsuit against me as an asset worth $15,000.

He receives $745.00 per month for a disability payment. He lives off of this and $194.00 per month in food stamps.

The only party he owes more to than to me is the background screening company HireRight ($33,562.50).

The next document I am sharing now is a transcript of the hearing where the judge in Doscher’s home state awarded me attorney fees. A few points I found notable include that my attorney says I did an “excellent job of presenting the issues to the court” in my originally filed motion to dismiss (though he also said it needed more reference to state law). I also appreciated this quote from my attorney:

“Mr. Doscher has repeatedly chosen to initiate litigation in this and other forums. Mr. Doscher needs to understand that there are very real costs to those he brings into court.’

After the judge declines to let him speak, Doscher leaves the courtroom. The judge says near the end, before making the award, “It’s my finding that Mr. Doscher has abused the court process to go after somebody from out of state, hale them into court in this state.”

It’s good to know more of the story, isn’t it? I am sure Doscher appreciates it.

That’s just a fraction of all have on Doscher, which was compiled over several months as preparation for his lawsuits. I have much more.

And I will share it all in depth on DoscherLeaks.

One other thing I will share now: A select list of quotations by attorneys in past suits who opposed Doscher. I’ll put those below. (In later journal entries, we’ll fill out the context for these quotes, but if you want to see the documents now, please contact me.)

After all, he wants everyone to know the full story.

Now everyone will.

**

By a local attorney, in Doscher’s lawsuit against his former public defender in a custody case:

"As can be seen from the excerpt reproduced immediately below, (1) Mr. Doscher threatened to run up the cost of litigation by dragging out discovery, claiming as an excuse that he as a pro se would end up taking more time. (2) He also acknowledged that he received social security disability payments due to his 'mental disability.' (3) He then stated that even if we were awarded sanctions against him, he would not have the money to pay that, moreover, (4) he would be filing bankruptcy in 2013 and add Ms.[Defendant], in that event, to 'the other creditors that I must name'. (5) He then stated, 'unless somebody gives me a whole bunch of money in the next two years, Ms. [Defendant] would not recover any fees or costs even if she is successful (6) Finally, he ended with a cheeky comment about his own legal abilities. (7) In a portion not excerpted below, Mr. Doscher also threatened Ms. [Defendant] with a bar complaint and (8) threatened to file the same case in federal court so that Ms. [Defendant] would have to defend parallel litigation in both venues."

Based on this email, the attorney says, "I realized that Mr. Doscher's relentless pursuit of litigation had some aspects of it being a game to him, that he could use and manipulate for his own purposes. Coupled with his mental disability and his explicit promise to run up costs, I realize that I could not deal with him in the same manner that I deal with the normal attorney and pro se litigant."

"Finally, the court in the present case should not allow Mr. Doscher to abuse the judicial process. He is continually granted orders of indigency and continually wastes mine and the court's time with repetitive motions in which he regurgitates much of what has been previously stated at least once. Since by his own admission he labors under a mental disability, it is inappropriate for his mental disability to determine the course of litigation in light of the willingness of the court to overlook, in some instances, his being pro se...I believe the court should recognize the inappropriate - if not bad faith - actions of Mr. Doscher in conducting the litigation. I do not know what measures the court can put into place to prevent his continuing to do so, but I would request the court give serious consideration to placing some limits or restrictions upon Mr. Doscher's filing of motions."

From his lawsuit against Swift Transportation:

“Plaintiff Christian Doscher’s Motion for Summary Judgment is based entirely in self-serving, inadmissible hearsay evidence, unsupportable legal theories and is an improper attempt to resurrect three causes of action…[which the Court] previously dismissed, with prejudice, almost a year ago. Plaintiff’s Motion exposes the weakness of all of his claims because on each of his causes of action, he cannot meet at least one essential element of his prima facie case.”

“…Plaintiff asserts that he was improperly disciplined and forced to resign on July 31, 2007 because he was told by managers to violate the law. Significantly, Plaintiff does not identify any law Swift’s managers allegedly asked him to break. Further, according to Swift’s managers, Plaintiff was never asked to break the law…Rather, he was disciplined because he was insubordinate to supervisors, failed to communicate with supervisors, abandoned a loaded trailer of freight on a customer site, improperly used company property, and, as a result, threatened Swift’s relationship with its customer….The evidence clearly shows that rather than communicating with his supervisor when he erroneously believed his freight was overweight and explaining the reasons why he believed the trailer was overweight, he just shut off all forms of communication with his supervisor and abandoned his job assignment in violation of Company procedure.”

“In this case, Plaintiff self-diagnoses his condition and claims he has a ‘mental disability’ that is triggered when he hauls freight from a shipper who does not have a scale on-site. Plaintiff has not produced any admissible evidence that this impairment limits his ability to work or perform any other major life activities. In fact, Plaintiff admits he is still able to work despite his alleged mental disability…. He also has not produced any doctor’s diagnoses, medical records, or any other documentation showing that he has a physiological or mental disorder that meets the definition of a ‘disability’ under applicable law.”

From a lawsuit against his state and county:

“…while Mr. Doscher alleges significant harm as a result of this 1990 court order, including violations of his right to vote, own a firearm and sit on a jury, his hearsay allegations of damages are not born out by evidence in the record which shows none of that to be true…”

“What is in the record are clear admissions by [Doscher] that he knew there was a problem with his criminal history in 1990 at the time his criminal history was transmitted by [X] County to the [State Patrol], and yet he did nothing until 2008 to challenge or otherwise correct the information…”

“…He states that he was told nothing could be done about it by unnamed and unidentified members of the criminal justice system…But what actually happened in 2008 belies his claims that nothing could be done when he learned of the error in 1990. In 2008, Mr. Doscher availed himself of the statutory process for correcting criminal history…when [the State Patrol] received updated criminal history information in 2008, the agency promptly corrected the criminal history. Had Mr. Doscher acted similarly in 1990, when he first learned the felony was on the record, the issue would have been resolved them.”

“If the [] State Patrol refused to let the Mr. Doscher see his records or refused to provide him an opportunity to challenge the accuracy of those records, Mr. Doscher could have asked a superior court judge to order the State Patrol to do so. Alternatively, Mr. Doscher could have simply asked a superior court judge to order the State Patrol to correct their records. The bottom line is that Mr. Doscher chose to do nothing between 1990 and 2009 when he filed this lawsuit…To the extent that Mr. Doscher continued to be damaged beyond the applicable statute of limitations it is only because he failed to file a lawsuit or seek a court order to correct the problem.”

“It appears that Mr. Doscher is now alleging that some unnamed employee of the XXXX County Superior Court Clerk's Office knowingly sent an erroneous Order of Probation to the [] State Patrol with the intent that the [] State Patrol should act on the erroneous Order of Probation.”

“Mr. Doscher's allegations against this unnamed employee of the XXXXX County Superior Court Clerk's Office is based entirely on speculation. Mr. Doscher's recollection of conversation with unidentified Clerk's Office employees is hearsay of the most unreliable kind and would be inadmissible at trial.”

From his lawsuit against a local attorney:

“I am the defendant in this vexatious litigation and I respond to plaintiff’s motion…”

“One aspect of this plaintiff’s modus operandi as a vexatious litigant is to lay venue in a county distant from the plaintiff’s residence in order to create additional cost and expense in travel time. In addition, as the attachment hereto indicates, Mr. Doscher has been denied in another matter payment of court costs at public expense in [X] County (the proper county of venue for this matter), and it is my belief that he Mr. Doscher presumes that his vexatious litigation will not be allowed in [X] County.”

“…Mr. Doscher’s vexatious litigation goes beyond the mere filing of improper, invalid, or likely invalid lawsuits, but goes to the process of litigation itself. Specifically…Mr. Doscher freely admitted to me that he would take a long time in deposition of my previous client, [Mrs. T], which deposition would ‘likely take [Mr. Doscher] several days’ to complete…”

“[X] County Superior Court and the [State] Supreme Court have both recognized that Mr. Doscher’s requests for indigency in other of his vexatious litigation should be denied, and [Y] County should do the same.”
 

From a suit involving HireRight:

[Doscher is a] “pro se litigant well-known to this Court” [and his motion to strike “not only lacks merit, but was plainly filed in a further and entirely improper effort to harass Defendant…[it is] just the latest installment in his ill-conceived ploy to avoid litigating the merits of his claim, a strategy that smacks of desperation because, according to Plaintiff’s sworn affidavit, he supposedly lost vital evidence when his backpack was allegedly stolen from his unlocked car. Plaintiff’s Motion to Strike is yet another shameless attempt to manipulate the legal system, and in any event, is not cognizable under the narrow grounds afforded by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure…”

“Plaintiff’s Motion to Strike is plainly intended to deflect the Court’s attention away from the actual issues in the case and to harass Defendant by unnecessarily driving ups its expenses in responding to baseless motions….[the motion] should be denied as frivolous and improper.”

“…the Court surely recognizes Plaintiff’s Motion for what it is – a last ditch attempt to allow Plaintiff to succeed on a Motion for Default to win the case on a technicality without actually litigating the issues…Generally speaking, the federal courts do not countenance such abusive tactics, and there is no reason for the Court to do so here.”

From a lawsuit against Public Storage:

[Doscher is a] "serial pro se litigant" [and a] "known vexatious litigant who intimidates his adversaries in the hope of squeezing money out of them to 'make him go away.' " She further states that he is "simply untrustworthy and lacks any credibility whatsoever."

“…Plaintiff is a pro se vexatious litigant, familiar with ‘crying wolf.’”

“The attempt to extort money from [the clerk at the storage facility] was not a ‘settlement negotiation’ as claimed, it was a direct threat to sue her if she did not pay money.”

“[Doscher] argues that, simply because he asserts something to be true, it is enough to create a genuine issue of fact….[but] there is no way a jury might reasonably believe Mr. Doscher’s version of events. [His] view of the law would create a license for serial litigants like himself to simply sue companies…based on he-said, she-said arguments that are nothing more than lies.”

From another lawsuit involving HireRight:

“Doscher’s current lawsuit is a transparent attempt to revive the claims he settled in September 2012 with the aim of extracting another payment in 2013. Doscher’s conduct must not be countenanced by the Court and, instead, he must be ordered by the Court to comply with the terms of the Settlement Agreement….Doscher must not be permitted to ignore the settlement and release he signed less than one year ago in furtherance of this manufactured litigation.”


**

More to come -- here and elsewhere.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Elliot Miller's "The Odd Faith Out"

I haven't been by for a while, and last time I was here I explained a bit about why. In April 2018, a dear friend of mine passed away: Elliot Miller, editor in chief of the Christian Research Journal. In the wake of his passing, I was asked by his wife to take up the completion of a project he did not finish -- a book on spirituality with the title The Odd Faith Out.

By "completion" I don't mean I did any writing or original research. The book was a work in progress, and Elliot left behind some notes and ideas for how he planned to complete it. His plan called for a book three times the size of what was in the manuscript. All I did was add a few easing transitional phrases between sections and write a brief foreword. The rest is pretty much as Elliot left it.

It's been published now because more than anything else, Elliot wanted to be sure it could get into the hands of others who needed the information it provided. That's also why the price has been set extremely low (99 cents) -- as low as Amazon would allow, actually.

I will be back again later in September. In the meantime, we hope that this final work by Elliot will be a blessing to all who read it.

t

Friday, June 15, 2018

A Tribute to Elliot Miller

A few weeks ago, we received the sad news that a dear friend and colleague had passed away. Elliot Miller was the chief editor of the Christian Research Journal, and for many years he was an active presence in apologetics for the Christian Research Institute. Elliot was also a good friend of mine, and he and our wives would get together at least twice a year in person to enjoy our shared interest in natural wonders and hiking at state parks. He and his wife were also among the only people we knew who also enjoyed visiting museums and other informational exhibits. 

We met this past weekend with his wife to see her one last time before she moved back to California (though we also plan to visit here there in coming months). He and Corinne had moved to Florida some years ago, to semi-retire, which is how we started the tradition of meeting twice a year. They lived down on Florida's southeast coast, a two hour drive away from us. 

Elliot had a great sense of humor. I showed him a few of my TektonTV videos, and he always got a hearty laugh out of them. I remember he especially enjoyed the one where I used the fiction of a time machine to bring together versions of Hal Lindsey from various decades (70s, 80s, 90s, and 2010s) who then confronted each other with their own errors. Like me, he had little patience with the constantly erroneous end times salesmen who kept changing their tune each time their predictions went awry. He was also a prolific writer, and his volumes of research work, especially on cults and Eastern mysticism, will continue to provide value for seekers in the years to come. And of course, he was an able juggler of the many responsibilities that went into editing and publishing the leading Christian apologetics journal in the world.

I offer this tribute as a way to say goodbye to him as a friend and colleague, but also to say that there's a certain torch I have pledged to take up for him, and that will be gladly occupying my time for a while. I'll release more details when they become available. 

  We will miss you, Elliot. See you again soon.

Friday, June 1, 2018

The Stewed Tomato Trap

As Jesse Duplantis begs for $54 million to buy a jet plane, let's remember this little ditty popularized by Josh McDowell (though I am sure he didn't originate the basic idea):

For example, suppose a student comes into the room and says, “Hey-I have a stewed tomato in my right tennis shoe. This tomato has changed my life. It has given me peace and love and joy that I never experienced before.” It’s hard to argue with a student like that if his life backs up what he says. 

Yes, it's hard to argue with a student like that, but it's not because his life backs up what he says.  It's because we long ago fell into this trap where subjective experience trumps objective fact.

In an objective sense, you could run that student in circles with arguments on why the stewed tomato isn't that cause of his peace. The most obvious point is that it has the bearing of the tail wagging the dog. But the real reason you can't argue with this student is because all the relevant data is locked away in his skull behind a wall of what some politely call confirmation bias. You can't argue with it if the student wants it to be true.

The corollary point to this is where we segue into Duplantis' $54 million excursion into foolishness. This is just the latest of so many examples. (Who remembers Oral Roberts saying God would "call him home" if his followers didn't pony up $8 million? Oral's people were getting a relative bargain.) It is also the fruit of the stewed tomato trap. Under the assumption that you can't argue with experiences of peace, love and joy, it follows as a corollary in the minds of critics that you also can't argue with expressions of greed, selfishness, and dissatisfaction. Christianity (the stewed tomato) has changed Duplantis' life this way? No thanks. Directions to the nearest Buddhist temple, please.

McDowell used the stewed tomato analogy a lot in his time. It was no surprise then that when I asked him some questions many years ago, he said that he never started with apologetics when talking to people and that his apologetics works were not meant to be evangelistic tools. He said as much as well in Evidence That Demands A Verdict: His goal was to use apologetics to answer questions so he could get back to presenting the stewed tomato.

Attitudes like this are no aid to apologetics, and foolish excursions like the one Duplantis is on only make the job of apologetics harder. Thanks to the stewed tomato trap, it is hard to argue against it.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Christianity vs. The Modern World?



Today I have a guest piece by regular E-Block contributor Caleb Strom.

***

This past November, there was an international Flat Earth Conference where people from around the globe gathered to talk about the fact that Earth is not a globe. The irony is hard to ignore. I have been hearing more from flat earthers in recent years. Ten years ago, it seemed that almost all flat earthers were trolls and that the only genuine flat earthers were obscure tin-foil hat wearing conspiracy theorists who only existed on shady internet discussion forums where topics such as Barack Obama being a Reptilian and the Holocaust being a hoax were also common subjects of discussion. 
 
For the most part, that remains to be true. All flat earthers I have encountered are conspiracy theorists. One thing that is different is that they are much more vocal than they used to be. Certain flat earthers are now traveling to different churches giving talks about how the modern scientific cosmology is a deception to lead the world astray and pave the way for the rule of the anti-Christ. I wish I was joking about the last part. 

This increase in the ubiquity of flat earthers may be related to the general distrust that people have of experts these days in the wake of the recent election. This is after all, the age of alternative facts. If you don’t want to believe experts about politics, Earth’s climate or whether vaccines cause autism, why believe experts about the shape of the earth? 

At any rate, what I found striking about this flat earth phenomenon that relates to Christian apologetics is that these flat earth believers sounded exactly like new atheists. These flat earth believers, like new atheists, believe that modern science and the Bible are incompatible. The only difference is where they fall on the divide. For new atheists, since the Bible and science appear to contradict, the Bible must be wrong. For the flat earthers since their interpretation of the Bible and modern science contradict, modern science must be wrong.
Heliocentrism, the sphericity of the earth (it’s technically an oblate spheroid), and most of modern physics are seen by these flat earthers as being anti-Christian and an attempt to undermine Biblical authority and the Christian worldview. This is in spite of the fact that the scientists who championed heliocentrism originally were devout Christians. In fact most of the founders of modern science were Christians whether you look at astronomy, physics, biology, chemistry, or even geology. This is interestingly the exact same argument I would use if I was talking to an atheist who was telling me that Christianity was anti-science. 

Both groups interestingly display the same simplistic binary thinking with respect to Christianity and science and both seem to have accepted the conflict thesis, that science and religion are always in conflict. 

Although I am not worried that flat earthers are going to take over Christianity, what this odd little collection of conspiracy theorists reflects is more troubling. It reflects the larger reality of how many Christians have bought into the idea that modern science and the modern world in general are a threat to Christianity. Many see Christianity as outdated in an age of electricity, nuclear power, democracy, capitalism, and technology that can send us to other worlds. Christianity seems like outdated superstition to many. It is not just non-Christians who believe this but Christians as well.

Another, more serious version of this view of Christianity and the modern world being in conflict is the more recent Benedict Option in politics to withdraw as the culture becomes increasingly post-Christian and anti-Christian. Is it true? Do we have to now simply withdraw from the modern world and try to reconstruct the world of the Middle Ages when orthodox apostolic Christianity was synonymous with reality as far as the culture was concerned?

Simply going back to the Middle Ages, the Byzantine period, or any other time perceived as golden age for Christianity is not possible, and it is probably not desirable either. Although there were good things about the Middle Ages, there were other things about the Middle Ages which were not as good and the modern world is a legitimate improvement in those areas such as living standards. I also do not think it is necessary.

First of all, much of the modern world was brought into being partly because of Christianity. Modern western science, political thought, and economics were all influenced by Christianity in one way or another even if they have all gone astray recently. If they were once in line with Christian thought, they can be brought back into alignment. This of course will require Christians to think seriously about how their faith relates to the world and how they can show that Christianity has relevance in these areas and not simply deny reality and accuse everyone who disagrees with them of being a conspiracy theorist.
Another thing to consider is that just because the modern world is in some ways in conflict with Christianity does not mean it can never be reconciled. 

Christianity grew up in the context of the pagan Greco-Roman world which was at first very hostile to Christianity. Over time however, the early church fathers and other theologians such as Saint Thomas Aquinas and Saint Augustine were able to find ways to connect Christianity and the Hellenistic world to show that they had common ground. In a few centuries, Christian theology and classical thought had been so completely reconciled that it was hard to tell the difference between Catholic Christian thought and Aristotelian thought. 

In Hellenistic times, there were also Christians who thought that the Hellenistic world and science were at odds with Christian thought. The monk Cosmas Indicopleustes, who was one of the very few early Christian writers to actually believe in a flat earth, believed that all Hellenistic thought should be rejected because it was pagan. That is in fact why he rejected Ptolemaic geocentrism, the mainstream science of the day, because it was a Greek idea, and thus, in his mind, a pagan one.

This struggle in the early Church over how to relate to the Hellenistic world sounds rather similar to the modern struggle in the church with adapting to the increasingly non-Christian modern world. If the early Christians were able to reconcile their faith and worldview with their world, why can’t we do the same with ours?

This is one of the purposes of apologetics, taking ideas that may be contrary to Christianity and molding them so that they can be reconciled with Christianity. We should not run from modern science or deny it, but engage it and show that Christianity is not in conflict with it but can be reconciled. We also need to do this with the rest of the modern world. In the same way that Medieval theologians created a grand synthesis of Christian and Classical thought, perhaps in our age, we need a synthesis of Christian and “modern” thought.