Friday, January 22, 2010

Passing thoughts, pressing dreams

Below is a post I wrote last night for our new blog, Without Any Gods:

Tonight I attended a Campus Crusade for Christ (or CRU) event on campus with my non-theist friend Liz. CRU is doing a lecture series on skepticism and Christianity. I missed last week’s talk on hell (shame too, apparently there was compelling evidence discussed for its existence). Tonight’s topic was “Can I trust the Bible?”

Essentially it was a crash course for Christians in how to respond to skeptics of the Bible. The three subquestions addressed were 1) authenticity, 2) corrupt copies, and 3) canon. I really don’t feel like wasting my time re-sharing the tired old retorts that the Bible is real because it’s god’s holy word and that even mistakes over the years haven’t changed the overall message. Instead I want to briefly share with you why the speaker claims that the apocrypha (non-canonical gospels) do not belong.

“The gospels of Thomas, Peter, Judas, Infancy Gospel, etc. are not canonized because:

1) They are not self-authenticating

2) They were published later - 2nd century and beyond

3) They falsely claim apostolic authorship

4) They contain strange/comical ideas”

(The above part is verbatim from the handout that accompanied the lecture)

This list is absurd. My biggest problem is with the first point. The suggestion that something should be defined as true because it says it is true, is a basic premise that we reject everywhere else in our lives - so why not here? Because the Gospel of John claims to be the word of god, then we should believe that it is, and if other gospels don’t explicitly claim to be the word of god then they clearly aren’t. Hmmm - this reminds me of a strange Jedi mind trick … but I thought that was science fiction? I don’t really think I need to belabor this absurd idea - I won’t because I’m sure that you get how ridiculous this circular reasoning is as a criterion for inclusion.

The second point is not true. The first edition of the gospel of Thomas was written at the same time as the earliest letters of Paul, BEFORE the canonical gospels were written (^ a b Funk, Robert W., Roy W. Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar. The five gospels. HarperSanFrancisco. 1993. “Stages in the Development of Early Christian Tradition” p. 128). John was possibly written in the 2nd century itself. The speaker’s second criterion is not being applied consistently.

The third point is absurd - Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John did not have eponymous authors … ALL were written by other people, and attributed to them. How is that any different from the Infancy Gospels or the Gospel of Judas.

Lastly, the only reason the speaker thinks that there are strange/comical ideas in non-canonical gospels is because he didn’t grow up believing in them. A man who gets killed and rises from the dead after three days is pretty much a zombie, but Christians think that is a sane belief to hold because they’ve been taught it since childhood. A Jesus who brings clay birds to life or curses a live boy to turn into a corpse (Infancy Gospel of Thomas) is apparently absurd … rather “strange/comical”. In the book of Matthew, Chapter 21, Jesus curses a tree to die because it didn’t have fruit for him when he was hungry … this isn’t strange/comical??? As my friend Liz pointed out, wouldn’t it have been even more miraculous if he had blessed the tree to bear fruit instantaneously, or moments later, or a day later? Why did he destroy it? And why isn’t his decision to do this strange or comical? Simple because we’re used to the story.

As the speaker closed the session, Liz and I watched as the lights dimmed, the guitar was strummed, the drums began to beat, and voices were raised in song. Throughout the room of people who were mesmerized by the music, the feeling of fellowship, and the idea of a shared experience, I was left alone to my thoughts - pondering how deep a rabbit hole can burrow before running out of dirt to displace. Instead of stress and frustration, my mind cleared as a sharp realization gave me cause to smile, and while sitting amongst the believers I wrote the following in my notebook:

The joy of knowing that we are stardust, that our very material essence was forged in the fires of one of the most awesome powers the universe contains, overwhelms my disdain for those manifestations who choose to remain in stark ignorance. The irony that it is the universe itself, refusing to acknowledge its own consciousness, has not escaped my attention. I find solace in the knowledge that the fate they await is ultimately equal to mine: a dream, a death, and then a diffusion.