Friday, June 23, 2017

Incurious Apostates

This past week I issued an updated version of part of my past book on the so-called "Jesus Myth" (the thesis that Jesus did not exist, not even as a person on Earth). The focus of the update was references to Jesus in extra-biblical sources like Josephus and Tacitus. 

The update reminded me that one of my chief gauges for whether an atheist is worth any serious attention is their treatment of the reference to Jesus in Tacitus' Annals. I don't think I'm overstating it when I say that my discussion of this reference is the most thorough out there from the perspective of debunking the Jesus Myth thesis. I pulled in works of multiple Tacitean scholars (Syme, Ash, Mendell, etc.) as well as Christian scholars, and I scoured atheist works for any and all arguments I could find. I also keep up on any new ones, if any pop up.

So, whenever I pick up a book by an atheist that I need to review, I immediately turn to the index (or use an online search method) to see what they have to say about Tacitus. That gives me an idea whether to expect a volume worthy of at least some respect, or something better suited for rolling on to a cardboard tube.

By way of example, John Loftus has been giving props to an atheist work by an author named David Chumney, titled Jesus Eclipsed. Now on first glance, this Chumney doesn't seem like your garden variety fundy atheist. Yes, he's an apostate minister, but he was a minister in the Presbyterian church for 30 years. So in that time, you'd think he'd have picked up some notion of how to do things the right way. Right?


 Here's a screenshot of his ENTIRE analysis of Tacitus' reference to Jesus, plus a list of the sources he uses. (It does not include background information Chumney provides, like the quote itself.)

To say this was a pathetic treatment of the issue would be too kind. The two arguments Chumney gives -- that Jesus is called "Christ" and not "Jesus," and that Tacitus based his report on what Christians said -- have been repeatedly debunked; France's assessment is NOT shared by anyone with any level of expertise on Tacitus; Tacitean scholars do NOT regard Tacitus as someone who would be that blase' about his sourcework. Chumney has no sources from Tacitean scholarship. This is a botch job of the worst order, but it is apparently the best Chumney can do on this subject.

So, why is that the case? Is Chumney lazy? Ignorant? Incompetent? A victim of confirmation bias? All of the above? I have no idea, but I do know that anyone who descends to this level of incompetence does not deserve serious attention. Chumney and other atheists/apostates grind out this sort of stuff like clockwork, and in turn it is vacuously promoted by the likes of Loftus. Why? Do they not know or care how this makes them look? Do they not realize that it makes them look as incurious and as uneducated as the Christians they so happily depict as 24/7 Homer Simpson headslap performers?

Maybe it doesn't matter to them as long as they can continue sell their books to each other and sit in their ever-growing circle of mutual high fivers.

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Kingdom of the Trolls

For this post I’d like to talk about trolls and the death of expertise. No, I am not combining Tolkein with that excellent book by Tom Nichols. The trolls I speak of (and which Nichols refers to in his own way) are ignorant and foolish people who do things like post silly and stupid reviews on Amazon Books, or post silly and stupid comments on blogs, or write silly and stupid blog posts.

I have in mind in particular a troll on Amazon who goes by the moniker “DS”, but I’ll call him Stumpy. Stumpy has a long-term habit of posting silly and stupid reviews of my books on Amazon, as well as other books, none of which there is any evidence he has read. Not surprisingly, the “Verified Purchase” mark seldom if ever shows on his reviews. Here’s a couple of examples of his reviews, and yes, these are the entirety of what he posts:

J.P. Holding's writings, as usual, seem rather void of intelligence. I would not even give him one stale donut for this book.

No donuts for this book Holding, as you make the same apologetics mistakes you always do.

As you can see, Stumpy has an obsession with donuts. I suspect it’s because he needs to sugar rush in order to fire his brain up in the morning. Either that, or the hole in the middle reminds him of his IQ score.

You’ll also notice that he never explains any of these obviously substantive criticisms. He never gives examples of mistakes, or of how any item he reviews is “void of intelligence”. And I’m not the only author this Chihuahua lifts his leg this way on. Here’s his review of a book titled Resurrection Fact:

The Resurrection nonsense. If you build a case on unsubstantiated anecdotes in 2000 year old ancient mythic sounding tales, then you get a nice apologetics cream of crap.

Nor are scholars immune to Stumpy’s dead expertise. Take for example Stumpy’s entire review of Richard Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses:

Apologetics nonsense. Plain and simple.

And here’s Stumpy’s entire review of Bill Arnold’s Introduction to the Old Testament:

Basically a well polished apologetics book trying to uphold the old testament as true. See instead: Michael Coogans Old Testament Intro.

There’s two pointers here about the way Stumpy’s mind doesn’t work. One is that he has this mental ossification which causes him to think that calling something “apologetics” is somehow debunking it or making some kind of worthwhile point. It never occurs to him that any work that presents information is by nature an “apologetic” for whatever point of view is in that work, or whatever facts that work presents or vouches for. His own review is an “apologetic” for a view that this book isn’t any good.

Second, by comparison, look at the endorsements this book has:

"Arnold has provided an introduction to the Old Testament for the twenty-first century unlike any other to date. Recognizing the influence of this collection on the three great monotheistic faiths of today, Arnold explores the significance of monotheism throughout Israel's Scriptures while also providing a thorough, balanced, and informed introduction to the texts themselves. Highly recommended!"  W. Dennis Tucker, Jr, George W. Truett Theological Seminary, Baylor University

"This is one of the best resources I've seen in a long time. The clarity of writing makes this a perfect primer for those who are new to the Bible. The breadth of topics makes it a wonderful review for those who are well versed in the Scriptures. I will be recommending this work to students and colleagues alike!"  Roy L. Heller, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University

"In this volume, Bill T. Arnold adopts a literary approach to the Old Testament that also pays particular attention to monotheism: one of its signal contributions to religious history. The result is a truly interesting, highly engaging, and deeply relevant introduction. A further boon: Arnold's erudition, considered adjudication of contested matters, and pedagogical savvy are on display at every turn."
Brent A. Strawn, Emory University

So here’s what we have.  Three scholars say one thing. Stumpy says something else. 

I’ll bet he’s too stupid to even blink at that point.

I’m far from the only one who has noticed that Stumpy’s a little short on the details and brains department. One review went as follows:

this book sucks. its just typical apologetics. you want truth, here is truth, the gospel writers wrote of Jesus using Hellenistic mythic garb. check out David Litwa's book Iesus Deus and or Cartlidge and Dungan's Documents for the Study of the Gospels 2nd ed and or Charles Talbert's What is a Gospel.

Here are some comments on that review:

This is not a serious book review. It does not discuss the books contents, nor does it offer a mature critique. Its a personal attack and simply cites other books apparently for rebuttal. This book will touch a nerve for many--as it obviously has for the said "reviewer". No one would react as he/she has unless they saw it as a serious challenge to their "faith" (We all have faith in something, even if its against Jesus.) Any book that would rattle a person like that is well worth a look see. I've ordered my copy.

If you look at his rating of book, he rates all books that support belief in Jesus as 1 star and everything that does not as 5 stars. He seems unable to state good reasons why the author is wrong. I do not believe he read those books. If he didn't read them and wrote a review anyway then he would have benefited by Jesus teachings on being honest.

If you want anyone to take your opinion seriously, you need to give more explanation about how you arrived at your conclusions, including addressing specifics in the book itself.

I've read the book and the author gives solid arguments and evidence to back up his claims.

In the end, it’s a lot like what I said in this vid:

The amount of trust and uncritical acceptance some people place in things like Amazon reviews or blogs is pretty horrifying, especially when we know nothing about them at all, as is the case with Stumpy. For all we know, Stumpy, or any person writing a review, or an entry or comment on a blog, could be mentally ill, or they could have a personality disorder. Or they might be someone who has nothing more than a high school education, and has never worked as anything more than a day laborer or a truck driver. Or it might be someone who spends all day doing nothing but leaving troll comments on blogs, writing trolling blog entries on multiple blogs they have started, and writing troll reviews on Amazon or on other neutral websites. Tom Nichols has rightly bemoaned the death of expertise; Andrew Keen has correctly identified the cult of the amateur. Stumpy is a good example of a charter member of that cult.

Stumpy hasn’t completely gotten away with his nonsense, though he is also too thick to get the message of things like those comments, and things like “6 of 149 people found the following review helpful.” Let’s not cease shining sunlight on these trolls and turning them to stone.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Captain Caveman vs Hank Hanegraaff

A major news item in apologetics came out this week, as it was announced that Hank Hanegraaff, the President of the Christian Research Institute (CRI), had formally joined an Orthodox Church.  This post won’t exactly be about that, though, beyond a few immediate disclaimers and caveats.

First, I have only positive impressions of the Orthodox Church and of Hanegraaff’s decision. Readers may search this blog for a series I did with the title Journey Through Orthodoxy, wherein I make some observations about Orthodoxy. It’s not for me, but some of my beliefs match theirs (and I arrived at those beliefs independent of knowing what Orthodoxy believed).

Second, it’s only fair to remind readers that I have deep connections to CRI and have written extensively for the Christian Research Journal. I also consider the editor of the Journal, Elliot Miller, and his wife to be close personal friends. I have had interactions with many staff members at CRI over the years, including Hanegraaff. Most recently, he and I shared a telephone call during which we discussed eschatology.

Now with all that said, here’s what this post is about: It’s about how certain fundamentalist personalities have foolishly reacted to Hanegraaff’s joining with Orthodoxy. I have in mind particularly a certain brutish thug named Jeff Maples, at the insipid “Pulpit and Pen” blog, where you dare not raise scholarship for fear of being burned at an electronic stake. 

Maples loudly bonks his forehead down on each and every one of the piano keys that is hit when a fundamentalist sees someone convert to one of the so-called “smells and bells” denominations (as one other crude item put it). He cites 1 Timothy 4:1 about “deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons,” in spite of the fact that Maples has no theological education to speak of and would find doctrines of demons in the contents of a Chuck E. Cheese menu. He hauls out the same idiotic objection to “graven images” which Dan Barker the atheist uses to condemn everything from the Ark of the Covenant to illustrated Bibles. (Maples has no idea what graven images actually were, of course: They were like phone booths to the gods, unlike Orthodox icons which are more like educational visual aids.) It speaks for itself that Maples is so theologically and historically inept that he unleashes an objection that is exactly the same as that of one of the world’s most ill-educated ex-Christian atheists. And yes, he spews a torrent on how Orthodoxy gets it wrong on salvation, grace, and faith, though you can be sure he has no idea how first century people defined those terms in the context of a patronage relationship, much less would he appreciate the nuances of difference in how those terms are used in each setting.

In light of that, we need the Large Economy Size Irony Meter to celebrate when Maples belches forth that Hanegraaff’s joining with Orthodoxy “should be a testimony of the dismal state of the evangelical church in our modern day. There is a sure lack of biblical truth and doctrinal stability to which many can be left wandering.” Oh really? Mind you: Hanegraaff is certainly in the top 10% of informed Christians today when it comes to truth and doctrine, and it is only Captain Caveman clones like Maples who are screaming their objections – not scholars like Mike Licona, or Craig Blomberg, or Ben Witherington. For an itinerant pixel-scribbler like Maples to use this as an example of decay in the church is like Pee Wee Herman telling Steve Austin that he needs some strength training.

Maples babbles further that this is “an example of what happens when professing Christians elevate something other than Scripture as the final authority on all things.” The funny thing is that Maples doesn’t realize that he “elevates” the English language as a final authority every time he cracks open his Bible (KJV, eh?). Like most such inepts, Maples is oblivious to how defining contexts are part and parcel of the defining of Scripture. They are necessarily “elevated” in tandem. 

Such gall as this naturally arouses curiosity in me. So I looked into Maples’ history to see if he might even have a smidgen of authority to run his mouth on this subject. Of course he doesn’t; he’s a classic poster boy for Nichols’ epitaph over expertise. In a paper-or-plastic testimony, Maples testifies mainly to his prior ignorance, saying that he “was one of those who grew up thinking I was saved because I had raised my hand and prayed a prayer…” He also says, “I don’t remember a lot of deep theological bible (sic) study or preaching.” His main concern though is that he “never had a youth pastor or preacher make me uncomfortable enough in my sin to either repent–or leave.” He also didn’t have a youth pastor who fed his brain, apparently.

On Maples goes, telling us one of those typical personal testimonies that sometimes seems more like a sample of pornography than a meaningful account: Lurid detail, not fact, lies at the heart of such stories, as even here where Maples tells us: “Drinking and partying became a prominent part of my life. I felt no guilt over it.” His initial cure for this was to join the military, but while stationed overseas he fell into more partying and drugs, and ended up going to jail. But finally, and thankfully, he got out of that mess and became a Christian.

Anything missing? You bet: The authority to tell off someone like Hanegraaff.
Not one iota of Maples’ biography gives any hint that he has the know-how to judge Hanegraaff or anyone else. Not one seminary class. Not one reference book by a scholar. The best we get is that he went to church with his Roman Catholic spouse, and seems to have been a bit discomfited. After that, we get a few quotes from fundamentalist comfort-food speaker Charles Spurgeon. Obligatory comparisons to the Laodecian church in Revelation. Satan waved around on a popsicle stick. Hangdog laments about how wicked humans are. And this:

I don’t care if people think I’m mean. I don’t care if people think I’m divisive. I don’t care if people think I should “tone down the rhetoric.” I don’t care if people unfriend me, on social media or real life. I don’t care if anonymous trolls attack me online. People are dying and going to Hell faster and faster every day. We don’t have time to sit down and have coffee with everyone. If you believe that somehow my “tone” or “kindness” is going to interfere with the Holy Spirit working through the truth of God’s word being spoken, you need to rethink your beliefs. There are people out there, lost, just like I was, and if someone doesn’t reach them with the truth, their eternity is Hell.

OK, Mr. Maples, I agree. So here’s my take on that: 

We don’t need ignorant people like you running your mouth on these subjects. And you’re a perfect example of the problem of the Internet, where someone who is unschooled as you are, or someone with a personality disorder, or someone who didn’t even finish third grade, has the ability to lash out and disrespect their betters without any justification. You and other babblers like you are not channeling the Holy Spirit; you are not speaking God’s Word, and you are not in any position to tell anyone, not even an atheist, that they need to rethink their beliefs. The mere fact that you have a Bible in your hand doesn’t make you as authoritative as its ultimate author. What you really need to do is shut up and go serve someplace like a soup kitchen.  

Of course, Maples would never heed such advice; no doubt the Holy Spirit is telling him right now how he is a righteous saint being persecuted by Holding, who is no better than an apostate. That being the case, all someone like me can continue to do is what I do now – make an effort to make sure caveman like Maples are countered with a loud voice. 

I’ve been doing it for years. I won’t be stopping any time soon.