A particularly ignorant character styled “Arizona Atheist” (AA) has issued a critique of Hitler’s Christianity (HC), particularly chapters 1, 11, and 12. Since the material in HC is overwhelmingly above his head, this is not surprising. It is also no surprise that he decides to use a shortcut of deeming the whole of the work “one large fallacy” of “No True Scotsman” – though I addressed this very foolish charge in Chapter 12. He does deign to touch on that chapter, which we will get to.
His first issue is in how I define “cult” and he remarks that:
Given this definition I think it is safe to say that any and all religions would fall under this category since every single religion is a branch of an earlier one. Given the work of Bart Ehrman and the vast numbers of “Christianities” that flourished within the first hundred years of Christianity, I could say the say the same thing about the so-called “orthodox” position.
Well, guess what…he’s right. That’s the point. As one of his oblivious commenters notes, Christianity started as a cult of Judaism, which is why it was rejected, ultimately, as not being Judaism, by Jews. The Jews did consider Christianity false, and in their view, it would have fit our definition of cult. So by his own retort, Jews of the era, as well as eventually the Romans, were committing a “No True Scotsman” fallacy by designating Christianity to not be Judaism. The end result as well is that AA has just given us the result that Christianity is indeed still Judaism, and so Judaism is responsible for the horrors of the Holocaust. Isn’t poorly applied logic wonderful? (By the way, I thrashed Ehrman on this issue years ago.)
AA also tries to confuse the issue by making very silly claims about how hard it allegedly is to decide what Jesus actually taught, but these are all issues I cover in other places, like Trusting the New Testament and varied articles I have written over the years, so to put the matter mildly, he is wasting the time of all but the most misinformed reader. The bottom line: No, it is not “impossible” or even hard to “pin down an accurate accounting of Jesus’ teachings” – not unless one is remarkably ignorant of available scholarship on the matter, and arbitrarily raises the bar of evidence beyond what is acceptable, such that we can’t be sure of anything written in any history whatsoever. As it is, AA seems to think a reference to Raphael “The Scholarly Disaster” Lataster is sufficient support for such a wide-ranging blanket assertion; whereas I have consulted a wide variety of scholars and sources over the years in support of the opposite view, having dealt with sources ranging from the Jesus Seminar on one end of the ideological spectrum to a host of Third Quest scholars on the other. These are works that AA has no greater mental acumen than to sit on them at the dinner table.
He also notes:
Yes, removing the entire Old Testament is certainly unusual for a sect of Christianity, but its not as if there isn’t a precedent for this. Prior to the rise of Nazism there existed a form of Protestantism that was very anti-Semitic and rejected the Old Testament.
Yes, precisely. I noted this very point in the book. It was the movement that was the precursor of Positive Christianity. It, too, by that very account, failed to qualify as a Christian movement. Other than this, AA flummoxes about with vague blather about disagreements over the canon, but this too is material I have covered before in other places (like TNT), and beyond this, none of the examples given are as radical as the case of Positive Christianity, which rejected as much as 80-90% of the total Bible. So we are left to ask: How much of the Bible must a group reject in order for AA to admit they are not Christian? Judaism only rejects about 40% of the total number of books in the Bible, and 15-20% of the Bible by total content. That’s less than the Positive Christians. So are Jews actually Christians? But how can that be since by AA”s logic, Christians are still actually Jews? This is the sort of loop you get stuck in when you don’t use objective criteria because you are too intent on proving a predetermined point.
On the matter of works and salvation, AA claims I am “butting heads with many Christians with his interpretations of scripture here” but he doesn’t say which ones or why their arguments are better. But these are again matters I have addressed in detail elsewhere (such as in my work on Semitic Totality) so the real problem as usual is AA’s lack of awareness, not the quality of my argument.
A rather naïve comment follows in which AA supposes that Goebbels’ praise for the Sermon on the Mount somehow means he had “right belief” concerning it. AA is missing what I said about the difference between matters of action and matters of doctrine. The SoM has no doctrine. So of course Goebbels could readily accept it as a Positive Christian. But for all of that, that no more makes him Christian than someone like Gandhi who also admired the SoM.
AA’s babbling rejoinder that we cannot know whether German persons’ theological beliefs were corrupted to the point that they were no longer Christians ignores the fact that I made this point quite clear in my text. As I said, it is not possible to compose spiritual profiles for millions of individual Germans at this date. So in the end, both sides of this debate cannot fulfill any burden of absolute proof. The most we can do is as I did, which is explain factors that might have affected individual Germans. AA’s job is now to explain either 1) why those factors are of no relevance in determining the potential spiritual state of individual Germans; or 2) come up with factors of his own that negate the factors I presented. As such is clearly over his head to do, his simple-minded resort is to simply bleat, “No True Scotsman” fallacy again. But again, this is merely a cheap shortcut. We would like to know just how far, then, in AA’s view, someone would have to go in order to NOT be a Christian. I dealt in specifics. AA does no more than mindlessly bleat, “How do we know? How do we know?” Well, if it’s so hard to know, then our agnosticism should also extend to Hitler and all the Nazi leaders, shouldn’t it?
We now turn to my chapter on the alleged anti-Semitism of the NT. AA does correctly note that one of my points is that “ Hitler’s anti-Semitic views couldn’t have come from the bible since the bible doesn’t contain the ‘racial’ version of anti-Semitism.” He alleges “two problems” which only demonstrate further his inability to think clearly.
The “racial version” of anti-Semitism is not a “later development.” The concept of race is one that not new. In fact, the concept of race can be found in the bible.
This is a remarkably asinine comment. Of course the concept of “race” is in the Bible. That is not the point. The point is that prejudice based on race is not found in the Bible. Nor is it even found in the ancient world at all, as demonstrated ably by classical scholar Frank Snowden is his book Before Color Prejudice. AA rather idiotically supposes that because the modern Nazi ideologue “Jorg Lanz von Liebenfels wrote an entire book using the bible to justify his racism,” that this somehow makes the case that the Bible does support racism. Really? Somehow it never occurs to AA that von Liebenfels had no idea what he was talking about. He should have gotten a clue by his own recognition that von Liebenfels argued that “intercourse between the first humans and animals were responsible for the Fall.” Really? Somehow I missed that in Genesis, but I suppose AA thinks that this is a respectable exegesis since he uses it as his prime example of von Liebenfels’ expertise.
I suppose he also thinks it a good argument by von Liebenfels that he “noted that people who were hated by the Hebrews were described in animalistic terms in the Bible. For example, Esau is described as being hairy in Genesis 27:11…” Wow. I’m impressed by von Liebenfels’ scholarsahip, aren’t you? I suppose the great scholars of our day need to just shut up. The bottom line is that one can only read “racism” into the Bible by way of ridiculous readings like the ones von Liebenfels performed. For AA to think that these constitute reasonable examples in favor of his case only demonstrates either his desperation or his monumental ignorance. Or perhaps both.
The same may likewise be said regarding Hitler’s possible manipulation of Lev. 17:11-14. I challenge AA to find a single Old Testament scholar who thinks that what he offers would be a valid exegesis of that passage. Race is not mentioned at all in it. So likewise Hans Schemm’s beliefs can only be created out of whole cloth in terms of being justified by the Bible. Does AA think there are no contextual or exegetical controls to speak of? Does he really think the author of e.g., Genesis and Leviticus would have accepted the attributed beliefs of Schemm, Hitler, and von Liebenfels as faithful renderings of their texts? Is he really that ignorant?
AA fails to grasp my point when I refer to John’s use of “Jews” in terms of a “rivalry of geography.” First of all, I related this in terms of “Judeans” vs Galileeans and Samaritans, not Romans and Greeks, as AA poses the question. Second, I gave the necessary evidence in the references appended in my note; specifically, in Defending the Resurrection, where also I answered the responses on Carrier on this matter. AA needs to keep up with the times if he wants to be a credible public commentator.
In terms of the other passages cited, AA does not even try to respond, merely either describing my views (rather inadequately at that) or denying my argument without providing any contrary arguments or evidence. The closest he comes is this comment on Revelation’s “synagogue of Satan” reference:
Clearly, when taken in context, it appears that the author is referring to Jews as a whole, since it was believed that their synagogue was blasphemous. What? Did he only intend for the local synagogue to be the work of the devil?
Um, yes. AA’s analogy to the Mormon church and its “teachings” doesn’t work, because what John condemns here isn’t the “teachings” of the group in question. What he condemns if their false self-identification as Jews (“the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan”). Moreover, it is clear that this is an issue that ONLY the people of Smyrna and Philadelphia are aware of. There were also Jews in the other cities John addressed, so there is zero warrant to expand this reading to “Jews as whole.”
AA expresses confusion over my reading of Acts 2:36 because he thinks it contradicts what he thinks is a “central doctrine of Christianity is that Adam’s sin lives on through generation after generation, and this is why Jesus’ sacrifice was needed to ‘save’ humanity.” Well, isn’t that too bad that he’s so ill-informed. It’s not a central doctrine. In fact I am in line with one of the largest Christian group on this subject, the Orthodox Church. If AA wants to know more he’ll just have to read (and refute) my material on original sin. AA will just have to learn that what he was fed during his narrow fundamentalist upbringing wasn’t the universal reality.
In terms of Matt. 27:25, AA disclaims my connection to the Talmud since they “do not depict the same situation.” He fails to note that this connection was made by a reputable scholar, Sloyan. Not that it matters. The “situation” is utterly irrelevant. The point is that the phrase is used to indicate innocence. We may use the phrase, “I plead guilty” in a courtroom, or we may use it when someone accuses us of taking the last cantaloupe at the market. In both cases we mean we did indeed perform the accused wrong. By AA’s logic, that can’t be right because we’re in different situations.
Now to the final chapter, which is where I dealt with the premise behind the No True Scotsman fallacy (even though I did not use the term). AA at first babblingly repeats his prior foolish arguments about the alleged difficulty of finding objective criteria, a problem that rests in his ignorance, not my arguments. Likewise his appeals to diversity within Christianity are fruitless; it is his job to show that the diverse views have respectable backing. As it is, his foolishness in accepting the exegetical blatherskeit of von Leibenfels, without asking any questions about whether it deserves any credence, speaks more to AA’s desire to blow smoke than to his ability to show that there is no way to find objective criteria.
The one thing he gets right here is that my criteria are “so narrow that even modern day Christians disagree with several of his beliefs (such as the role of belief vs. works).” That is precisely the point. Far too many groups, like Mormons and JWs, claim the title “Christian” that do not deserve it. And this has less to do with objective criteria and more to do with rejecting such criteria so that people’s feelings won’t be hurt. If AA thinks it bothers me to exclude such people, he’s wrong. And if he thinks I’m raising the bar too high, he needs to prove it – not dash off into the refuge of ignorance and uncertainty. I have composed hundreds of texts defining my objective criteria. If he wants to play this game, he will need to addresses and refute all of them. I have done more than enough to respond to critics; so likewise have many scholars, countercult apologists, and many others. AA simply needs to go out and get some exercise – more than just picking up Ehrman’s silly little treatise (which, as noted, I have also addressed) and thinking that that does the whole job.
As it is, that he thinks Josh McDowell (!) is the apex of what is offered from this side speaks far more to his incompetence than anything else.