Friday, June 9, 2017

The Canada I remember

I seem to be up with a cold, and am thinking that I made the right decision despite the tugging on my arm (and my heart) not to attend my daughter's field trip to a nearby pioneer town yesterday. I had come home and spent the morning on the couch instead, realizing that I really didn't feel so good, with head throbbing and eyes and nose watering, as the rain came down outside, wishing my daughter had worn better shoes like I'd asked her to repeatedly. I had had a bright idea in the office while I signed her permission form, saying to her that we could instead go there as a family in the summer. "That would be nice, wouldn't it?" As I walked away, torn as I often am as a parent, the things you would love to do, if the realities of everyday life didn't so often get in the way. A pioneer town for a day, one on one time with one of my children, a grade school memory as I find myself recalling, now sitting here at my desk in early morning. The birds have just awoken outside, the rain seems to have stopped, and I'm here with my own thoughts of grade school.

I've had this memory, who knows why it is that we remember the things that we do from our childhood. I grew up from the age of 9 in rural Nova Scotia, attending a little country school that my daughter's school reminds me so much of (which is why I am sad that it will be closing it at the end of this month), that which is small and personable, being replaced by bigger and more economical. There's so much happening in the world that some have tried to normalize. This is the new normal they tell us, while bodies and minds are being ripped apart, 'we can't let the terrorists win.' We can't let them win, they say; its hard for one to normalize what you know is not normal, because one remembers a time when such events were extremely rare.

And so I have this memory that I keep alluding to, I was 11 or so, at this little country school in rural Nova Scotia, which closed long ago, in favour of the bigger and amalgamated. We were sledding outside in winter, it wasn't so cold in the morning air. We weren't so concerned about the buttons on our coats, and someone had just told us that we needed to go inside for religion class. They reminded us that it was now held in the morning before school, instead of during school. For some reason this bit of instruction stayed with me, not really understanding why, but maybe it was because on some level I knew that the year before, all of the Catholic kids like myself did have religion class in school, while the non-Catholic kids (being a small minority in that town), left the class for the library. Strange that I would remember that, isn't it, with my sled on top of the hill, ready to go down, excitedly.

What I then remember is that years later, likely as a teenager, seeing a news anchor person on television discussing political correctness. "How do we know what is politically correct," she had asked the person being interviewed. I don't remember his response, which seemed quite formal and drawn out, but I remember the questions being asked. Looking back in hindsight, political correctness came in not long after religion class went out. Am I right? I'm guessing, less than a decade later.

Why am I asking this; why am I remembering this at 4 o' clock in the morning? It seems very ironic to me, when I think about what amounts to my life experience to this point. I grew up in the 80's and early 90's. I'm old enough to remember when there was still prayer in school, O' Canada followed by the Lord's prayer. I'm old enough to remember when that ended, and when political correctness came in years later, and when the announcer asked, but what is political correctness? How do we know what is politically correct?

When I was a kid in grade school, it's funny, but I don't remember there being a need for discussion, as to what was right and wrong. Everyone knew when the Challenger blew up around that time that this was a great tragedy. People were shocked at the loss of life and human potential. Teachers didn't really have to explain to us why something was right or wrong, everyone knew. It was expected. When I went to university years later, people there seemed to know too. I gained an appreciation for the greats of western civilization, western thought and culture. I was inspired by the greatness that I saw all around me, in people, and in the books that I was reading.

What am I getting at here? What I'm trying to express is that looking back now, to that moment on that snow hill in the middle of a Canadian winter, I was seeing or living through the decline of western Judeo-Christian society. It is very ironic to me, with that moment in time, now but a memory in my middle-aged mind, after years upon years of seeing my personal beliefs and values denigrated, after much thought and bewilderment at the changes that I see all around me, to come back to that announcer's question while our society seems to be in disarray, floundering with a new reality, a lost security: what is political correctness? How do we know what is politically correct?

When that kid grew up and moved to Ontario and found, as a simple rural Nova Scotian girl, many of my small town values challenged, I learned to curb my accent and expressions. I learned to expect to pay more for everything, to not be quite so simple in my outlook I was told, like one from the country. I continued into adult life and found that my personal beliefs were not welcome, were scorned as an artifact of an earlier time, too simple, too not -politically correct.

The ironic thing to me, as someone who responded to that challenge to question my assumptions, who did spend my time in the trenches looking at various worldviews, looking at arguments for God's existence, looking at Christianity historically and philosophically, among other options...I honestly think that we as the western world have abandoned a more coherent worldview for a less coherent worldview. What is political correctness? How do we know what is politically correct? I would now add my own question, what is it based on, if not simply, Judeo-Christian cultural assumption, or what's left of it.

And the funny thing to me, as a kid who grew up in a time when investigative journalism meant something, when ethics meant something, when we were taught to ask questions and think critically and think through what we said and wrote, who through study is realizing that we had a culture that was based on the historical church and the historical life of Christ, fused with Greco-Roman thought and culture as well. A foundation for ethics, if there ever was one! What do we have now? It is so ironic to me as I hear about news broadcasters literally having to set up the shots that they need -to get their story, the narrative they crave, Judeo-Christian cultural assumption.

What I think we're seeing is the failure of a worldview in secularism, which does not have the depth to compete with radical Islam, and so it clings to its own Christian heresy, a world without evil, where the human heart needs only to be educated, not redeemed. And it is so ironic to me as a seasoned Christian, to realize that the worldview that my culture has abandoned, orthodox Christianity, is the worldview that can compete with radical Islam, and expose Islam for what it arguably is, a 7th century, politically inspired Christian heresy. Along with Marxism and every other ism that sees history as linear and progressing toward a sought after utopia, whether God-made, or man-made, echoing their biblical influence, and unlike pre-Christian or Eastern religions, which see history as cyclical. This cultural sense of human dignity and purpose, yet progressing toward what, if there is no natural design and if Jesus said his kingdom is not of this world?

To be fair, getting back to the topic of changing norms and our seeming inability to confront present extremist realities, our secular society could confront the early history of Islam or other ideologies on historical grounds, or the Quran on scientific or ethical grounds, but based on what, if truth is relative and morals subjective? Am I arguing for the reintegration of church and state here? No, I'm simply saying that in the writing out and rewriting of western Judeo-Christian society as solely secular, we've lost a lot of the cultural and historical starting points that would really come in handy right about now, while a lot of people seem to not know what to say, or what to think. While more and more instead of discussion, we see denial and ignorance of our own history. I would like to see more openness in our society. I would like to see more of an acknowledgement on a cultural level, or freedom to appeal on a cultural level to our Judeo-Christian and classical history. We have a history too. We have a culture too, and it isn't all bad. Much of it, was extraordinary.

In closing, I'm left with my memories, and a present that doesn't fit with what I know to be true. In a world that demands uniformity, while it talks about diversity, while demanding intellectual submission. The authoritarian left with its Christian heresy shaking hands with authoritarian Islam and its Christian heresy. All in the name of tolerance and pluralism, while they cling to a egalitarian heritage that is not their own, though they strive to subdue and obliterate, what amounts to their very foundation. I think back to the little boy next to me on that little hill, waiting patiently for a little girl to go before him. He wasn't Catholic or even Christian that I knew. He was just a nice little boy, as were other kids that I grew up with, some from far away. I watched him go before me, contentedly, before I went to class. I miss him. I miss those kids. I miss those years, I miss that little school. Sometimes what seems like progress, may be the loss of our foundations.

Thanks for listening,

Margaret Harvey

Image result for children sledding

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Dimes and paradigms

Well, it seems that often I read the news these days and I find it so upsetting that it forces me to put aside whatever I'm busy with and feel the need to put my thoughts down on paper. I had started this post some time back, as I sometimes do in the middle of the night, and then I wonder if I should put aside those things that go through one's mind in the middle of the night for another time, when maybe I'm seeing things more clearly or balanced somehow?

The society that I find myself in, I find to be increasingly disturbing. I had this title for a post, some time back, when every time there would be another terrorist attack, the media would seem to see it as its duty to tell me/us over and over again, that "Islam is a religion of peace." Islam is a religion of peace, don't you know, with a camera trip to a local mosque or an interview with a clearly peaceful Muslim, as are most Muslims, as few of us need to be told. If I had a dime for every time the media told us what to think, and what to see...and yet, the hard questions never seem to get asked. What drives a 20 something year old kid with a good education and a bright future to do something so heinous? Is there a factory somewhere for these kids? It reminds me of Orwell's 1984, "War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.," the slogan of the empire, and it seems to be working well for the Arab empire at the moment, very well.

And yes you heard me say, the Arab empire, because that is what I think Islam is, underneath its headdress of religious piety. I am convinced more and more that the roots of Islam as an ideology, by looking at the dates of what we have on paper and from archaeological evidence, that the Arab empire came first, dear friends, and that Islam as a religion followed. Just looking at this history, in a nutshell, the Byzantines (the Eastern Roman empire) and the Persians (the Sassanid Empire) wore each other down fighting for centuries, which created a power vacuum on the fringes of their empires, and they didn't see the Arabs coming. Once in power, the Arabs needed an ideology to ground their vast expanse of growing territory, and perhaps taking a cue from what was by then, the so-called Holy Roman Empire, they formalized a competing theology that would privilege the conquerors, and subdue the conquered.

But how do you say that, what I just said, in a world of political correctness? Good thing nobody has heard of me. Jihad attack by truck becomes a truck attack, have you noticed? Better watch out for those idealogue trucks. Gun attack against a gay night club becomes about the conflicted gay individual. Honour and shame culture and a scales based religious system, except in the place of martyrs, couldn't possibly have anything to do with it. Interesting, isn't it? Knife and even axe attacks on trains become about vague exclamations uttered in the night. I wonder what exclamation that might be. Any guesses? How many people have to die before we are allowed to question this ideology (sigh)?

Here I'll skip to what I wrote months ago, and abandoned for months:

Well, here it is, 4 o'clock in the morning and I seem to be out of excuses to not be writing what I've been thinking for some time, in between endless ordinary life and constant hesitation. Do I say what I think, or remain with the silent politically correct majority?

I remember seeing a video in grade one, and it's funny the things that stay with you after 35 years or so, isn't it? Was it religion class of all things, I don't know, but in this video shown to very young kids, I remember learning about Islam somewhere deep in my memory, it's there, and I remember having a very odd feeling, that there was something different about that duck.

And that is the feeling that I've always had about Islam, yet always hesitated to speak of something that is very foreign to a kid who grew up eating meat and potatoes every night and hearing fiddle music on the radio and bagpipes every summer. How do I talk about something that is not my culture, not my history, something that I see every bit through another lens, and I know it?

And so I remain silent, though I've been researching Islam, having started sometime after 9/11. What does a Protestant minded Christian do after 9/11? Naturally, I read the Quran, and in between attacks in Boston and Toronto and Paris and now Brussels... I'm still checking out Islamic sources, and I know I've got plenty more to read, but you know what else?

The more I am researching Islam, I am coming to the personal conclusion that Islam had nothing to do with the Bible or the God of the Bible, and everything to do with the geo-political circumstances of the 7th century and onward in the Middle East. That's right, it's good ol' politics draped in a good ol' cloak of religion. Just ask yourself, if illiterate cultural pagans are going to conquer "the people of the book," were they not going to need a book to do it? So whaddaya' do, when you have an empire, and no book, to rule -"the people of the book?" By golly, you do the same thing that people running for president in the U.S. do, tell everyone you're a Christian, and be seen going to church, am I right? How else do you appeal to your majority Christian audience? You talk the talk. You write the book. Do they really care about what they're talking or writing about? Who knows?

But Muslims do care, they care very much. This book is now sacred to them, the foundation of their world for centuries, and I know that -because it's common knowledge, and because I often talk with Muslims online. Muslims are quick to tell me that Islam respects all the prophets, but do they read the prophets? How do they really know if they're getting the original or a superficial extraction of the biblical narrative? Add to that, how can they know, if they don't have access to the Bible to check what the Quran says alongside the Bible? Isn't it interesting, that the Quran affirms the Bible, and yet Muslims are constantly alleging that the Bible is corrupted? What could possibly explain that internal contradiction?

This was not about the Bible, my friends, this was about usurping the Bible's authority for political and economic purposes. Give them a heart felt story, mention Moses, mention Noah, talk about one God and how that is so important. Talk about Jesus too. Talk about his mom. Mention what a lovely lady she was. It does not matter as long as the message is clear, that we have the "final prophet" and the "final revelation." Make no mistake, this was about power.

And the concern for earthly power continues, as some have said, Islam is communism (or totalitarianism) with a god, and it's death march continues through the pages of history. It doesn't matter that the book they quote is largely borrowed. It doesn't matter that the stories they repeat often can't be found in the source Islam claims to be based on. That doesn't enter the conversation, yet Muslim and non-muslim alike continue to be subjected to the demands of Islam. Of the major conflicts in the world, how many of those conflicts involve Islam? And I'm not saying that the west is innocent, or that Muslims don't have some just grievances, please don't misunderstand me. What I'm saying is that I think there's a reason why so many Muslims respond with force and political action, because this is consistent with its early history and teachings and example of its founder and earliest followers or advocates.

What I'm also saying is that despite our flaws and oft mistakes if not outright abuses, the west has a critical culture, and that Islam largely does not. Feel free to test this view. Look up how many books have been written in the west criticizing the Crusades, and then look up how many books you will find in Muslim lands, criticizing the 400 years of Arab expansionism that lead up to the Crusades. Be my guest, but I think what you will find, by and large, is that the west usually doesn't emphasize the 400 years of Arab or Islamic expansionism, and neither do Muslim sources, unless it's to glorify their early history. In other words, there's a reason for the lack of ability for self-criticism in the Muslim world. On some level, Muslims know that to criticize their early history and Islamic imperialism more generally, is to test the very foundations of their society. Furthermore, how do you question the political, if the political is very much tied in with divine instructions from God himself?

But are we in the west helping by catering to this culture of denial and dogmatic assumption? May I say, as a theologically conservative Christian and part-time seminary student, I can assure you as someone who feels the pain every time Bart Ehrman releases another scathing critique of Christianity, our culture does have the ability to critique Islam, so why don't we? At what point do we have a responsibility to question an ideology that is literally killing our people in our streets, as well as leading to untold suffering for how many millions of people around the world?

Well, I'm just going to speak as a westerner here, as someone who has lived in the west all my life. What I see, is that you can challenge the Bible as much as you want, that's a reflection of our ability for self-criticism in the west, or perhaps, an example of our divided culture, but if all the world religions are the same as were taught to accept without question, and we need to respect people's culture and religion as part of that culture and multiculturalism as a social value, how can we then criticize someone else's religion? That's the way we're thinking, isn't it?

Yet, I have spoken to enough Muslims to know that they are quite happy to read the titles of Bart Ehrman books, and books that criticize the Crusades, and the titles are often all they need to reinforce what they have been taught to accept without question. We don't realize in the west at this time, that our hyper skepticism concerning the Bible and our own history is both destabilizing of our own traditions and is providing sustenance for Islamic supremacist groups. I could say a lot more about that, but for the purposes of this blog piece, I'm not saying that there isn't a place for criticizing Christianity or the west. I think there is, but I don't hear other ancient literature and other cultures being held to the same standard. That's the difference! Do we really stop to ask, how does other ancient or religious literature compare with the Bible? How do other cultures compare with our own? What are our/ their strengths and weaknesses? That would be fair criticism, wouldn't it? My understanding is that the Bible is the best we have from antiquity, and that the Quran would not compare to the Bible textually, in that it cannot be reconstructed because the earliest evidence was destroyed. The Quran also went through a systematic process of standardization that lasted for centuries, but few Muslims know it.

Add to that, that from the perspective of historical monotheism, clearly, the Quran is making reference to the Bible, but the Bible is not making reference to the Quran, which should say something (shrug). Judaism, after all, is the start point of the Abrahamic faiths, and Christianity came out of a Jewish milieu, the first Christians and Jesus being devout Jews, steeped in centuries of Jewish thought and tradition. Muhammad or the Arab empire, in contrast, retains pagan traditions and a historically pagan temple and god, relic, etc., despite superficial mentions of biblical persons and narrative, interwoven with a historically pagan culture. In short, Islam is the religion of outside conquerors and influence that adapted to a biblical culture, not something that came from within a culturally biblical or biblically literate context.

But here's where I want to go a little deeper, with the above thoughts in mind. I don't think we realize how much Judaism, and with Christianity, Jesus: have influenced western culture toward non-violence firstly, but also toward concerns for social justice and human rights. I think we take this influence for granted. I actually think Islam is more the norm of world history, another conquest, another dictum, another strong man, another oppressive regime, often backed up with ideology and the use of force to implement that ideology. Hey, what could be more common? That's not to say that Islam couldn't have represented social reforms in the 7th century, perhaps in some ways it did. However, having said this, I think time is demonstrating that Islam is largely a product of its time, as brutal Sharia court rulings and Islam's totalitarian nature continue to contrast sharply with the perceived norms and expectations of the the modern world.

With this stark contrast between Islam and modernity in mind, between the west's concern for individual freedoms and Islam's demands for social cohesion and conformity: as I alluded to earlier, why is it that the west seems to have this ability for self criticism, even when we don't live up to our own perceived ideals? Why is it, that even as the British ended slavery, we seem to think that we're the only culture to have ever had slavery? Even as the west today has the lowest rates of slavery in the world, somehow we always end up the bad guy, again and again. How do we explain that aspect of our culture, our sense of moral responsibility, if everything that is, is simply what it has adapted to be? I can assure you, from everything I hear in my discussions with Muslims, in contrast, the Muslim world has not begun to question it's own history of slavery and genocide and oppression and assumption of cultural and theological superiority. So why do we? Why do we beat ourselves up, even in the wake of terrorist attacks on civilians, again and again?

"Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you."Who said that? Was that a mad man or a poet? But we're not listening to that someone anymore, are we? Or are we? Could it be that despite the attacks that our culture levels on Christianity at every opportunity, that somehow that influence remains? Can we stop to imagine, that not all parts of the world have had a Jesus or a Buddha figure, people who looked inward, as their example? Have not some had a Napoleon or a Muhammad as their guiding example, people who got the job done, men of action?  

Just in further reflecting on that point, concerning how ideas and how historical figures have often shaped societies: someone I respect has said that the heresy of humanism is that human beings are at base, good. The world is good, right? People are good. We want to believe that. We want to believe in our ideals, that the world is a good place, that people are good. I do too! But in between "all the world religions are the same," and people are basically good, they just need another hug and a good liberal education...How does that idealistic worldview deal -with evil? You heard me right, evil. Where is evil on a naturalistic worldview, where Jeffrey Dahmer and Osama Bin Laden simply evolved to be what they are/ were?

We can't handle the truth. We cannot handle the thought that 1.6 billion people have been deceived by an over zealous dictator, or worse. And please hear me, I'm not out to get Muslims, I'm out to befriend Muslims. I'm out to share the love of Christ with Muslims, to be very clear about my intentions. I feel for these people, fourteen hundred years of totalitarian rule -without a ray of sunlight on the horizon. We think about what people lived like under Stalin or in China today. How much time do we spend thinking about what Muslims have lived under for 1400 years, or what minorities in these countries have lived under for far too long?

But being the optimist that I am, I need to think of something positive here to end on. Will you join me in not accepting the lines of political correctness? Will you join me in a deeper discussion? Can I tell you what I love about Muslims, which is why I enjoy talking with them so much? I love their passion. I love that Muslims care about things that matter, to a point that they will sacrifice everything for what they believe. I remember a while back I was speaking with a Muslim woman. I think she eventually defriended me, can't remember why, but she said something that was the first moment of agreement that we had shared. She spoke of being a Muslim in the western world and said you know, the people here have forgotten God. And you know what, I think she was right. And maybe that's why despite the tunnel that I feel I'm in, mostly alone in saying the unspeakable, I prefer it over another trip to Ikea.

Not everyone, but in large part, our culture has forgotten its roots. As an old friend said years ago, we want the benefits of a historically biblical or Christian worldview, hospitals for the public, public education, concern for the poor, but we don't want the moral commitments. We take for granted concepts such as equality, even if we can't argue for them on a naturalistic worldview. We neglect to consider a material world in the full weight of its social implications. Human beings become highly evolved primates and that seems to be enough, for now. Does it matter that we were once made in the image of God, meant to be a reflection of His majesty and presence in the world? Would the heights of western culture or any of Europe's great cathedrals be built today? Would they look the same? Does it matter if they're empty? That which we have now put our faith in, the unguided secular sphere, even as the voices of factioning groups get louder, angrier and more myopic. And I think that's why Muslims are confident that they will replace western culture, and you know what, they're probably right.

And I was supposed to be saying something positive here (lol). Regardless of what happens, or what I think may be in the process of happening, may I simply suggest, whether you agree with my perspective or not, can we begin to evaluate ideas for their own sake? And that includes my worldview, in case you think I'm not seeing something here that I should. Let's start with evaluating the religious traditions or world philosophies themselves, the full range and depth of the history of ideas. Let's consider the consequences of ideas around the world and historically. Where do people want to live? China? Arabia? Holland?  Let's evaluate ideas on their own merit, instead of applying a lens of assumption or our own thin cultural veneer of western expectation, to something that may or may not be historically western.

Does this mean there couldn't be positives that have developed or been retained from centuries of history or tradition, that there aren't things that we can learn from other cultures? I'm sure there are! Surely there are. I'm simply acknowledging the need for a deeper evaluation, as well as my own limitations. Having said this, for every time we hear blankety blank in place of news, for every paradigm that we see in place of reality, I have good news. :)

If I may conclude with that which gives me comfort, speaking personally, because I think it's time we acknowledged that maybe, just maybe, Christianity isn't the joke that we've made it out to be. Perhaps there are reasons why people are literally dying to get to the west instead of to China or Arabia. It amazes me how this message of hope and redemption cuts through the clutter of politics and division, when it's allowed to be present in the marketplace of ideas. We have in Christianity a worldview that has the depth to confront the errors of Islam. I am convinced of this. The tradition that we have abandoned in the west, is the intellectual tradition that we need to rediscover, even in terms of social and cultural frames of reference, that which we now term, "western values."

You don't have to agree with me on that point, but isn't it interesting that a country like China is fascinated by our spiritual heritage, not having the comfort of a majority Christian society, historically? But they may yet, have a Christian majority, having seen first hand the underbelly of oppression and the rule of men. Many people around the world are embracing the hope that we have pushed aside, in short, and this includes many Muslims. I think there's a reason for this. People are seeing, that which we may not be able to take for granted for much longer. The value of the individual human person, that all our rights and freedoms hang on, that is grounded in a biblical worldview that says that human beings are created in the image of a loving, personal God, who calls each of us by name. But why would we expect an elevation of human dignity, even if it is assumed, if everything that is, is just the way that nature -developed? Nature simply is, in all its beauty and brutality. It's elemental.

And so, knowing that the Christian era is often overlooked in terms of its influence in the western world, and I'll save that discussion for another time, but I think the human heart needs more than the borrowed well of secularism. People need to know that they are valued outside of an economic or political system, or that which simply developed for natural reasons. And that is why I think the secular west is limited in its ability to confront Islam. Secularism can confront Islam intellectually, in terms of its history, ideas, etc., but can it give people what they need, spiritually? In contrast, I am convinced that Christianity does have the depth, both intellectually and spiritually, to confront Islam at its deviating roots, in that Islam itself may have developed as a Christian sect. They left before the we did, in short, with the Enlightenment. But with this departure from its Christian roots in mind, and drawing from the earliest Christian writings that most Muslims never hear, we have an opportunity. :)

May I conclude, this does not end with a slave world empire, an impersonal god and authoritarian rule. Even if that's the way it's going, even if that's what so many people believe or have been taught to accept as the new reality: what we cannot say and what we're told we must tolerate as the new normal, the heinous, unacknowledged, unspoken, unnamed brutality that we are witnessing. This is not the way it ends, and that's what gives me hope, dear friends. I believe this ends with freedom, and life to the full.

God bless,

Margaret Harvey

Quote: From John 10

 "I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.[a] They will come in and go out, and find pasture.10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." Jesus


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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Going up that river...

Well, it's been too long. I've been trying to get back to blogging for months, but adult life being what it is, assignments and appointments and taxes always seem to take precedence over sharing my personal thoughts on issues that matter. Having said that, there are some things that seem to bring the background to the foreground of necessity, and with that in mind, I'm near tears as I begin this. How many people have to die before we're allowed to have an honest discussion about Islam? One would think, this most recent event in Florida, when an I. S. supporter opened fire in a gay bar on the weekend, resulting in the largest mass shooting in U.S. history, that this might be enough to stimulate a discussion that went beyond what the Westboro church has to say about gay people. I can assure you after a morning spent online discussing this event with secular minded individuals, that thus far in my experience it has not.

That worries me, and I'll be very honest about why that worries me. I think that our over-confident, secular dominated culture does not realize, firstly, that the western world is not above decline if not outright attack and eventual usurpation by the historically Muslim world. Nonsense, you think? I don't think so, with a western world that has been teetering on bankruptcy for years, so much so, that we've needed public bailouts to avoid complete meltdown of markets, near zero interest rates and influxes of spending to sustain our economies. I also take a historical view of this conflict, and I know enough to know, that what we are seeing is not new. It is simply a new stage of an old war, in which for much of post 7th century history, what began as the Arab empire was a considerable world force, if not outright dominant on the world stage.

With that forgotten history acknowledged, this seeming lack of ability on the part of mainstream media to call a spade a spade and acknowledge that this has nothing to do with the Westboro church, and everything to do with political Islam, also worries me for another reason, human rights. When one observes the general, lesser regard for human rights in the Muslim world, the rights of women, the rights of non-Muslims, the rights of homosexuals, even with an emerging cultural influence that suppresses ideological opposition to Islam, where could all this be taking us in 20 years, 50 years, or 200 years, in an economic world that is dominated by dwindling energy reserves, presently supplied largely through the Muslim world?

Think I'm crazy, fear-mongering? I don't think so, and I'll tell you why. I honestly did not start out with a negative view of Islam. I really didn't. I'm Canadian after all, we're nice, doncha' know? We place such a high esteem on being nice that we don't like to criticize anybody, and this has been so drilled into us. Don't judge, lest ye be judged, right? That's almost as high up there as don't kill somebody in this country. But being a Protestant minded Christian as I am, and when I say that I mean, an emphasis on getting back to the scriptures, I naturally thought, if I want to understand Islam in our post 9/11 world, I need to read Islamic sources. I can honestly tell you that in so doing, for the most part that has been a very dark, tunnel like experience. I'm not trying to be dramatic, but studying Islam for me, has reminded me both of my own mentally abusive background, and of reading the novel, "Heart of Darkness," when I was in university as an English Lit. major years ago. And yes, I'm aware that I'm making a reference to a novel that is often spoken of in terms of western imperialism. Part of the problem on that note, I think, is the modern myth that somehow imperialism began with the modern western world, when in fact conquering and oppression are as old as human history.

If that is true, and I think it undoubtedly is, is it really that surprising that Conrad's novel would remind someone of another empire's horrors, and the darkness of the human imagination? But like my impression of Conrad's novel, the question becomes, how far do you want to go up that river? Do you dare? What will you find when you do? Do you want to know? And yet I continue to try to do just that, to trace and to read the earliest and most authoritative Islamic sources, as hard as I often find that to do, emotionally. And as much as the optimist in me keeps hoping that somehow I'm misreading this history, I can honestly tell you that my fears concerning Islam have not come from a news outlet or a political pundit, they are coming from an honest surveying of sacred Islamic materials, as a student of theology. Having said that, I'm no expert, and this is not my culture, I know that too. If I am misunderstanding something, please tell me, and I will consider new information. But I think what we need to do is to have an honest discussion that is based on Islamic sources and history, and not based on worldview assumptions.

I think that what we are seeing with hugely powerful western political leaders and media outlets in their pat statements and bland generalizations, refusing to call Islamic extremism what it is, Islamic, we're witnessing the failure of a cultural paradigm. You know, everyone is good, we all just need more hugs and a good liberal education, and people won't do this anymore. If you're like me, and you grew up hearing that all world religions are the same, over and over again like a mantra, well, how do you know that? How do we really know that?

I think that little slogan was said during a time when the differences we were dealing with in the western world, amounted to a Catholic church on one corner, and a synagogue or a Protestant church on the other. 30 years ago, right? Well, when I was a kid in grade school in the 80's, that was about it, are you Catholic or Protestant, and what's your father's name, with rare exception. In my case, most of the Catholic students went to religion class, and the few Protestant exceptions went to the library. I wondered at the time where they were going, being in grade three and being Catholic. Until of course, they took out religion and the baby Jesus from the Christmas pageant a few years later, and lo and behold, we still called it Christmas, and talked about something else.

So, what I am driving at here? I am simply asking, in an increasingly post Judeo-Christian western world, how do we really know that all world religions are the same? How do we really know that all worldviews lead to the same place? Have we in the far western world lived in Eastern societies? Have we visited Muslim societies? Have we lived under communism or other secular regimes? So, how do we really know that put any ideology in, any influence into the mix -and out comes the same product? When we look around the world, is that what we see?

I'm not trying to bash anyone here, folks. Please don't misunderstand where I'm coming from. Of the time I spend talking to people these days, a fair bit of that time is spent talking with Muslims online. They are probably becoming some of my best friends, in terms of the people I actually speak to on an in-depth level on a daily basis, and they tell me all sorts of things. I hear their wants, I hear their opinions, I sense their outrage at western involvement in the Muslim world and I seldom if ever defend that involvement. I am not out to get Muslims here, or anyone for that matter. I am truly trying to understand the world I find myself in.

But where do we go from here? Can I make a suggestion? Can we talk a little less about the nutbars at the Westboro church, and talk a little more about the Quran? Can we begin to talk about Islam in it's historical context? Because you see, if Islam was simply the product of a 7th century and onward dictatorship, centered around an empire's control and advancement, but dressed in a cloak of religiosity (which serves a dictatorial purpose) -a product of its time, then it all starts to make sense, doesn't it? Rape, pillaging, desecration of minority cultures and points of view -hey, what would one expect from a 7th century empire?

And I am not attacking Muslims personally when I say that, anymore than I am expressing solidarity with individuals and concern for individual rights, when I speak of the abuses and horrors of communism. So what's the big deal? We're all adults here, we can learn to separate our personal sensitivities from a discussion of worldviews and their implications, correct? As a theologically conservative Christian, I can tell you, that I have had to learn to separate my most precious beliefs from the right of other people to disagree with my beliefs. I've had to learn to develop a sense of emotional detachment in discussing sensitive issues with people who do not share my beliefs or my values.

And so, I empathize with Muslims as human beings who feel like they are being personally attacked here, because it's how I often feel myself. I understand that it is easy to feel personally attacked when people criticize what is to us: everything. It's our hope, it's our future, it's our treasure, as people of faith. But even as I think of a dear Muslim friend, who quotes passages from the Quran online, even as he tells me day after week after month, how he does not want to live in a Muslim country, and desperately seeks any way he can find to get to the western world. I say this for him. I say this for the people who tell me that they are/ were abused, even as they tell me that they hate Israel and they hate the west and they hope we get what we deserve, as one Muslim said to me after the Paris attacks. I'm no longer friends with that person, but even the experience of losing friends, has not kept me from believing that honest conversations between people can make a difference.

With that honesty in mind, I don't hate you, Muslim friends. The west does not hate you, nor do Jews and Christians, as the Quran seems to imply. I feel compassion for you, and that is why I challenge what you have been taught to accept without question, because I want better for you. And though it is a topic for another time, you are not just seeking entry to the western world, you are seeking entry into the historically Christian world. It is not a coincidence that a concern for what have been called inalienable rights came out of the historically Judeo-Christian world. For my secular friends, what fixed point of reference does not change, in an ever changing natural world, to provide such an intellectual and social foundation for something that we claim does not change? For my Muslim friends, the Bible has very different points of reference that have shaped our societies differently. I leave you with these thoughts to consider.

I was reminded on the weekend, when I was struggling to put my thoughts into words, upset and unable to walk away from what I was seeing on the screen. A former Muslim whom I respect, Nabeel Qureshi, wrote "truth in love." We are called to speak truth in love as Christians, and that continues to be my goal, even as political correctness continues on the broken wing of a failed paradigm. I said this recently to someone close to me, "I think we are watching the failure of a paradigm," and he responded, I think we are watching the collapse of Europe.

In closing, yes there are risks, and opportunities in this new world, but my hope is that we can dig beneath the surface together, to have the courage to confront the unknown and the uncomfortable and the sometimes disturbing. As fellow human beings from different backgrounds and perspectives, can we move toward a deeper discussion, a more honest dialogue, centered on a mutual respect for our differences, and our right to disagree? Can we have the courage to travel to places that we wouldn't want to go to again, and shouldn't have to travel to alone?

Thanks for listening,

Margaret Harvey

"Going up that river was like traveling back to the earliest beginnings of the world, when vegetation rioted on the earth and the big trees were kings. An empty stream, a great silence, an impenetrable forest. The air was warm, thick, heavy, sluggish. There was no joy in the brilliance of sunshine."

Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness. 

Image result for heart of darkness river image

Image result for heart of darkness river image

Friday, August 14, 2015

When belief in nothing...

There's a lot I need to get to today, I've been taking a summer course and so I have a few assignments that are due tomorrow and yet sometimes I just need to sit down and write and this seems to be one of those times, so here I am. :)

Please let me begin in mentioning that I'm married to a wonderful man, love of my life, who... I don't think he would mind me saying that he follows the news almost obsessively, for whatever reason. Son of a journalist (shrug), rubbed off on him perhaps, but he sends me articles and mentions things to me throughout the day or in the evening. It's a bit much sometimes to be quite honest (lol), but I do appreciate that I'm married to someone who I find I can talk to about just about anything, more importantly, and he probably sees that in me too, a common interest or concern, which is likely why we tend towards these conversations about challenging issues. Having said that, there's a reason why I avoid the news (haha), and you may soon see why (lol). Anyway, Geoff showed me this story last night about a United Church minister by the name of Gretta Vosper of a greater Toronto congregationwho's well, an atheist of all things. She may be defrocked, and she may just well -fight it. Isn't that lovely, when oxymorons aren't oxymorons anymore, atheist Christian equals church minister, apparently, and from all appearances, she doesn't see the contradiction. It gets me thinking, as a part time seminary student and as a long term lay person, as a Christian, how can it not?

There seems to be a buzz in the air these days, isn't there? A buzz that goes something like this, please correct me if I'm wrong. Christianity's passe, secularism is in. We know so much more than Peter and the boys did way back when. It's all a myth and well, we didn't die for that "myth" as they did, but we know much more than the people who were actually there and we believe in progress now. Progress, you see, is based on science and progressive stuff, you know, stuff that progresses -on a blind. Material. Process. It's progressing, yes, it's just oozing right along. Did I mention that already? Oh, and we're progressing with it, naturally, not quite sure where that blind material stuff is taking us or what human beings amount to when all that is -is binding material -but hey, we're progressing and progress is good, whatever the good is -on a get the idea.

Please forgive my sarcasm, but a lot of thoughts have gone through my mind since reading this article. So much so that it's hard to know where to start really (sigh), but aside from wondering how this person ever found their way into ministry in the first place (I can't help but wonder), or where she received her training (lol)...or what she preaches on or why she preaches at all on a blind. Material. Process... Regardless, it seems obvious to me that this is just another step along the way of humanism becoming more formally instituted as a religion. I know that there are a lot of people who would disagree with that assessment as atheists tend, in my experience, to try to declassify themselves out of any criticism. But when you can't question something -it's becomes an institution...and when something is formally set apart in such a way as to be ritualized and most highly esteemed and deemed worthy of worship, it's a religious institution, like it or not. The unfortunate realization seems to me to be, that some once mainstream Christian churches seem to be along for the ride, in losing their spiritual heritage as secularism finds its way into the church.

If I may, I'd like to remind anyone who will listen that atheist Christian is a contradiction in terms. Christian implies follower of Christ, and Jesus didn't claim to be a myth -or a humanist. :) Myth implies fiction or revision -and is almost to be expected, when you stop to think about the many revisions that Jesus has undergone historically. Gnosticism made Jesus into a Greek philosopher. Islam made Jesus a prophet of Islam and supporter of the Quran and the Arab empire. Western rationalism and now modern humanism and unfortunately some of our modern western churches seem to be well on their way to making Jesus into a mere human teacher and humanitarian, etc. What I try to do is to get people to go back and to read the earliest sources that we have about Jesus and to ask ourselves, which Jesus is consistent with the Jesus of history, or does the Jesus we have made, look more like the culture that surrounds us? That's the question, isn't it?

Myths tend to develop over time, unlike orthodox Christianity which has always held to the earliest sources which are firmly rooted in first century eye-witness testimony of people who knew Jesus or who interviewed people who did. Stop to think about this please, how do the claims of this atheist minister, that Jesus is a myth, make sense of the historical crucifixion and empty tomb of Jesus (two events which are regarded by the majority of critical scholars in the field as historical fact)? After all, I would hardly think that claiming to be a myth would get anyone executed let alone get you followers after your execution. All the evidence points to Jesus being a real person who made blasphemous (if not true) claims within a first century Jewish context. So much so that even his earliest followers as Jews themselves, had to be convinced of his claims. First century Jews didn't believe in a bodily resurrection until the end of time, so how does this Christian leader explain the rise of the Christian church from within first century Judaism? What happened that could possibly explain how a group of devout Jews would risk their lives to proclaim a message that if it wasn't true, it would mean the loss of everything they knew, their community, their families, material possessions, even their own salvation?

To answer the minister's expressed concern about Christianity's exclusive truth claims, yes, Christianity makes exclusive truth claims, as does humanism, as demonstrated in this secular minded minister ending the recitation of the Lord's prayer in her church. The answer to her concern, I think, is not in pretending that some views are exclusive and some aren't because the reality is that all truth claims are exclusive. The answer as a society is in respecting each other's right to disagree. And that's my starting point here, rights, respecting the other person's right to disagree with me. My humble suggestion, having said that, is that the minister start her own meeting place, the church of the communing humanist, if you will, and I won't go there, but she can, and her followers can. It's a free country, after all. My wish would be that it wouldn't be called a church at all, of course, because Jesus wasn't secular. Jesus was Jewish and started a movement commanding his disciples to go into all the world and to baptize his followers in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Does that sound like secularism? If so, I beg to differ. The historical Jesus made extraordinary claims that he then willingly gave his life for. With this fact in mind, if we respect Jesus at all, even as a human being, will we not address his claims? With this said, I'm not a United church member and whatever the United church decides is ultimately up to them -but can I tell you what I see? I see a secular culture that is so desperately dependent on Judeo-Christian biblical concepts that intellectually ground it's humanistic ideals -but do we ever get a footnote?

We're not going anywhere folks, on a blind material process. We're not special as human beings -or should I say, as highly evolved organisms on a pale blue dot in an endless expanse of space and time, in a vast universe that is slowly running down... In the grand scheme of things it's not going to matter whether we paid our taxes or helped little old ladies with their groceries or adopted stray dogs. No matter the offence to the humanist ideal, that which we don't want to see deflated, that we are not morally improving as a species because we have a more advanced can-opener and everything is not getting better all the time. What survives and reproduces is simply what is -by whatever means, while we are and remain, DNA machines. Luck, not love, has everything to do with our propogation, in the words of Richard Dawkins, the universe we observe amounts to "blind pitiless indifference." Do you see it? Can we separate the New Atheist myth from the New Atheist reality? The universe does not care about you and me....and the faith statements of a humanist preacher don't change a thing...on a material world that is only acting and reacting and thinks not and cares not and hopes not and forgives not.

I can do cynical too, can you tell? There's a reason for that. I've been there. I understood a long time ago as a very broken young adult who barely believed in anything, except God, that unless there is something more in this, we're kidding ourselves to think life matters. But something tells me that nihilism is not what this well-meaning United Church minister is going to be preaching about this Sunday. Something tells me that she will be reaching for something far greater with an evangelical fervour, a glimpse of utopia in her eyes. Whether or not she can verify her assumptions scientifically, it will not matter, will it? It goes without saying, she will talk about faith. She will talk about hope, she will talk about love and compassion and mercy and forgiveness. She will talk about humanist values and community and I don't doubt for a moment that this is what she sincerely believes, while encouraging those who will listen to keep reaching alongside her. Why else would she continue doing what she does if she doesn't believe that it's all true? As a seasoned preacher and a true believer in objective if ungrounded morals, I suspect there will be an implicit criticism of those who do not share her belief in a brave new Godless world. "Imagine no religion." Can you hear it, can you hear the voices rise as they sing another round toward unending fantastical ideals? And this is what I see all the time with secular folks that I talk to, an unbridled faith in something, anything more...while they talk about other people's belief in Santa Claus.

Here's my point, it's not that the myths of our secular culture are any less subjective, or anymore scientifically verifiable; it's just that they are believed with more faith, such beautiful childlike optimism -ironically, while the rest of us are considered fools by the same culture for believing in the historical source of the same values! Can you show me a television show on prime time that questions humanism? Can you show me a media outlet that criticizes this myth of collective human "progress?" I hope to develop these thoughts further, in time, in terms of the history of humanism and how in the words of atheist writer John Gray, "pretty well all of secular thought is a repression of its roots in Judaism and Christianity." I would add to his critique: secularism depends on a historically Judeo-Christian culture while dismissing the spiritual and intellectual framework on which humanism is rooted. May I humbly suggest that if our culture and our churches for that matter, desire to find an objective starting point that stands up to intellectual scrutiny with consistency, the Gospel can be found online and in many a hotel room, if not in the hands of the leadership of the United Church. When belief in nothing becomes belief in something because belief in something is required....The Gospel is still an option, dear friends, for a culture that is desperate to believe in something and a hurting fractured world that needs much more than belief in nothing to sustain it.

Thanks for listening, with prayer and petition for a broken western church that needs renewal. God bless. :) I'll close with the words of the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians, "but we preach Christ crucified..."

 1 Corinthians 1:18-31Revised Standard Version (RSV)

Christ the Power and Wisdom of God

18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the cleverness of the clever I will thwart.”
20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
26 For consider your call, brethren; not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth;27 but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption; 31 therefore, as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast of the Lord.”

Quote: "Pretty well all of secular thought is an unknowing repression of its origins in Judaism and Christianity." John Gray (atheist author and academic).



Image result for images when belief in nothing

Image result for images when belief in nothing

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Letter from a religious minority

I started this piece a number of months back and like so many posts I start but hesitate to put out there until I am sure I have thought what I am saying through and asked myself a dozen or more times, is what I am saying balanced? Anyway, I'd like to take a moment to congratulate the GBLTQ community on their recent big victory in the United States. My sincerest best wishes and regards. I'm sure it has been a long road and means a lot to a lot of people. If I may say as well, as someone who felt devastated by a similar decision in my native Canada ten years ago, I wasn't devastated by this decision. I'm one of the many social conservatives who has come around to supporting gay rights with time, but I have to say that as a human being I have not felt at all respected during this process. And maybe that doesn't matter, and I gather that it doesn't matter to many people because I hear them say precisely that, your feelings don't matter, you have your rights, etc. But yet the question that remains in my mind, if it's not acceptable to belittle or to label or to name call or to bully or to bash gay people, even verbally, why is it somehow acceptable to bully and to name call and to bash social conservatives and religious minorities?

The reason I ask that is because I'd actually just started to think I'd made my peace with this issue, even that I had moved on and was thinking and writing about other subjects, most thankfully as this subject has haunted me for years. I've sometimes written out of both a personal necessity and desire to try to find common ground. Yet, in online discussions that followed this announcement and with what was for me, a passing comment in one such discussion and the outright dismissal and ejection that resulted, much of what I had felt for ten years came flooding back. All for the mere suggestion that perhaps we could continue to include religious rights in this discussion. In my experience people shut you down, often before they even allow you to speak, assuming they know what you're going to say before they even take a few minutes to get to know you.

Perhaps this individual was simply having a bad day, I don't know, but it left me wondering if social conservatives even have the right to exist in this culture at this time. Are we even allowed to be part of the discussion? What else am I to conclude, when one isn't even allowed to participate and any mention of rights of conscience for religious persons on this issue is met with spite and acidic retorts? And just when I thought I was doing so well (shrug). I'd come around to what I thought was a fair and reasonable position, that though I see myself as a theologically conservative Christian and social conservative at heart, perhaps I've become more politically liberal in the last number of years, in seeing the damage that these social issues are doing, the division that it is causing, the pain and polarization that has resulted. It's not worth it to me, it really isn't. What's the point I figure, if as Christians we win the argument or the legal battle and lose the audience; if we lose the person, we lose the relationship.

And so it seemed like a fair compromise to me that though I am conservative in some ways, to put a new emphasis on simply supporting the rights of the individual firstly as a way of building bridges with communities. Makes sense, doesn't it? I thought so, though I have been told by people close to me that this is a violation of my own beliefs and principles and that the whole point of a democracy is that we all get a vote. Why not vote for traditional marriage if that's what you believe in? I don't think so. I can compromise, I can give a little. I can't give away my soul, but I can make it a priority to support the human being firstly. Hey, why not? Why is that not an equally Christian thing to do, to support the individual rights of the human person, as supporting the traditional family? Jesus said that there would be no marriage in heaven, but there will be individuals, and as I have come to understand, it is this core biblical concept of human beings being created in the image of God, endowed with an intrinsic worth and dignity that really is the concept that we continue to cling to and to draw from as a society. Somewhat ironically, it is this same core concept of human dignity and worth that the gay community is appealing to today, while the larger secular culture assumes that religion has no place in society.

But I'm not here to argue about that, or anything else for that matter. What I desire to express is that this has been a heck of a road for all of us, social conservatives as well as the gay community. I have felt abused and belittled and browbeaten and bruised throughout this process and I'm not exaggerating by the way. This issue has weighed on me emotionally, almost daily for much of the last decade. Yet, the idea seems to be that again, well, Christians have their rights, and so the end justifies the means, or so we're told. We can't have gay people browbeaten and bruised as a community; we can't have them ostracized, or harmed, or hurt and so, by any means necessary, right? Something tells me that Martin Luther King would not have agreed. Martin Luther King would have understood the value of people who were opposing him, the value of all people.

Having said that, I think we got it right the first time, and I'm not speaking of the civil rights movement of the 50's and 60's or women's liberation. I'm speaking of the Protestant Reformation and Catholic counter Reformation, from the turmoil of which was born the idea of tolerance, more descriptively, you set up your tent as a Catholic, I'll set up my tent as a Protestant, and we'll agree not to kill each other. This is classic tolerance is it not? And hey, it's worked for centuries, so why not put it to work now? Why do we insist on a uniformity of mind, for what is a most painful issue for so many people? I have been suggesting for some time that I think religious rights or rights of conscience would be a much better model for this issue, over insisting on a one size fits all approach which arguably is leading to confrontation and political and social polarization.

In reflecting on western history, my sense is that historically, the west learned that there is a heavy price that comes with sectarian conflict. My understanding is that this is also where the idea of separation of church and state emerged, that people who were fleeing religious persecution in Europe, understandably wanted to establish a balance of powers when immigrating to the U.S., the principle that no denomination or governing institution should get the upper hand, while the others are left to be marginalized or persecuted, or the church persecuted by the state or vice versa. In contrast, the sense that I get in this present discussion is that for many people, it really is about wrestling power from power or gaining or maintaining power for some, but at what cost? Freedom of conscience? I'm speaking for both sides when I define this issue as an issue of conscience to be clear, but our present mainstream society seems much less concerned with rights of conscience as concerning the rights of religious minorities. That is what I see. Feel free to disagree.

Now you might say Marg, you're paranoid to think religious minorities have anything to worry about, somewhere there is a clause that says that clergy will not have to marry gay people, as if that settles it. At the same time, there seems to be little discussion of where these boundaries end or begin, while law suits emerge and religious individuals and institutions appear to be targeted. And if the culture only allows one side of this issue and one group to be heard, who do you think the media and the courts will side with, as rights of conscience for religious minorities are suppressed and weakened? Call me paranoid if you like, but the fact remains that we are seeing court battles between rights groups...and who is winning? Does it matter that some of these legal and media battles involve religious institutions or even private businesses in private homes?

Again, what I have been saying for some time is that it would be much more constructive for both sides to think of this issue in the way we think of religion or politics, as an issue of conscience with a healthy freedom to disagree while respecting each others space. You be a Catholic, I'll be a Buddhist, you be a socialist, I'll be a Green, etc., instead or trying to force unanimity on what is again, a complex and painful issue for so many people. I would never walk into a synagogue and demand to be taught the Lord's prayer, nor would I walk into a gay festival and demand to carry a sign that says Jesus saves, so why are people telling Trinity Western University how to define marriage within their own religious educational context and social milieu?

In summing up, if one thing has become clear to me following this decision, it's that there is still so much pain and division that centers on these highly controversial social issues, and I think it will be years, even beyond the last legal battle before the sting is taken out of this issue for a lot of people. As I said to a close friend last week, we don't know how to talk to each other; liberals and conservatives are speaking different languages while insisting on opposing points of reference when confronting each other in the public square. Looking back, if I may say, this issue came out of nowhere and hit me like a truck; all of a sudden, almost overnight, you're being equated with people who killed millions of innocent people. For what? For having traditional family values and for believing that children need parents and that traditional marriage is in the best interest of the larger society (shrug). With that said, I think if it had been put to me differently, I might have gotten to the decision I did, sooner.

I think we need to reframe this issue in terms that are understandable to both sides. I've been thinking about compiling some of these blogs in such a way to do that. Maybe it's not such a bad idea to think of trying to communicate this issue in new ways, but for now, I'd like to allow myself space to say what I have felt for much of the last ten years. Some days the division I see all around me bothers me more than others, but it's always there (sigh). On a positive note though, what keeps me going is the thought that despite the polarization and the visible extremism that seems to be more and more of an issue in our modern world, that most people are reasonable and that in time, hopefully, we can begin to see past our differences enough to support each others right to disagree -as fellow bearers of another mind's image. :)

If I may, I would like to close with something I wrote a while back. Please understand that I'm not posting this to be self-indulgent or overly emotional. I'm posting this because I honestly don't think that the average person in more mainstream or secular circles understands how painful this issue is for social conservatives. And please, before you scoff at that, I want you to take a step back and please think about an issue that is near and dear to your heart, something that you know you could never compromise on, something that cuts to the core of who you are as a human being. Slavery? Poverty? War crimes? Human trafficing? Social Justice? I don't know, but you know what that issue would be. What could you not compromise on, even if your life was on the line?

With that question in mind, I want you to imagine a world where the mainstream culture was trying to change your mind on that issue. You turn on the television and it's there. You open a magazine or see an advertisement and it's there. You're aware that you are a minority in a changing world, for the majority it's no big deal, and everyday you feel the pressure to change your opinion. You're called a bigot in discussions with friends, you're called a hater in social media, you're told you are the reason millions of people died in a holocaust. It's kept you up at night, you've lost friends and been publically embarassed but still, you know that you cannot change your mind. This is who you are, this is what you believe, and yet the pressure to conform goes on for days and weeks and the months turn into years. How do you feel? My point is that it's easy to say that someone else should change their views, their most basic values and beliefs -when it's someone else. I'll leave it at that for now, but as alluded to earlier and in the opening title, this is simply called, "Letter from a religious minority." Take care. :)

Sigh. I don't want to make a big deal out of this post. I don't want to come across as self-indulgent or whiny. It's just that after several years of writing, albeit obscurely on the gay rights/ religious rights battle that is ongoing, I made the mistake while ill and tired, of reading a local new story's coverage of yet another gay/ religious battle and after reading the comment section at midnight, something in me snapped. Not one person that I read, comment after comment, with once again the familiar accusations; not one person dared to ask the question, do Catholics have the right to be Catholics?

The question rings in my ears like the accusations. I do not know why this issue has bothered me so much over the years. I am well aware that 27,000 kids die every day from hunger and preventable diseases. Does this compare, and yet it seems like when I turn on the national broadcaster, if I'm feeling brave enough on a given day and willing to feel assaulted as an evangelical Christian, it's there, so much of the time, it's there, like a big ol' club, waiting to come down on my head, again and again. That's what it seems like.

And so it looms, disproportionately perhaps, but it looms in my mind as it looms in the press with yet another battle, yet another accusation. Most days I can handle it, the familiar accusations, the familiar pain that I feel when I think of this issue. I try to take it in stride, a sense of humour helps. But this was one time, it just got to me. Never mind the stomach pains, never mind the chronic migraines, the distractability that I have felt in the last number of years, for which the familiar accusations don't seem to help. I wake up to the tune of you're a bigot in my head, and it's always there, a little louder some days, but it's always there, like my hatred, or so I'm told.

What's wrong with me? Am I over-sensitive? Do I need to learn to brush it off, toughen up? Does my pain count? Do evangelical Christians feel pain? Surely not! Surely bigots and hatemongers don't have sleepless nights as I'm writing this at 3 o'clock in the morning. Bigots are too busy being bigots to have sleepless nights, right?

And so I'll continue, continue to live with the familiar song, what else is there to do but get used to it? Another day, the familiar pain, the familiar accusations, the famous fear. But it's not famous to anyone else but me because no one cares. In a culture that talks about bullying. In a culture that talks about targeting, and how it's wrong. In a culture that says that name calling is wrong, I saw an ad for it the other day so I know somewhere standards of conduct must exist. We shouldn't hate people they say. Cyber bullying is wrong they say. Name calling is wrong they oft' repeat, so talk to your kids about it while I just continue with the familiar song and the familiar pain in my stomach and the confusion in my head because I already know the national broadcaster doesn't want to hear from me. I don't have the right views. I don't have the right opinions. There is something wrong with me. There is something very wrong with me.

I can't seem to get on the big ol' bandwagon. I can't seem seem to do it right. If I could just get on that big' ol' bandwagon everything would be easy. I know that and yet I can't do it. And I know from the sleepless nights that that is not going to change so there's no point in going there again and again because I know what I will find in the dark because I have been there many times. But bigots couldn't possibly spend time in the dark, do they?

So from someone who's worked with the marginalized for most of my adult life and who's done that from my own pain of feeling marginalized, and from someone who waited all my life to escape the mentally abusive environment that I grew up in, to better myself, to try to be a better parent, to try to be a better friend, a better person, may I humbly ask the people that talk about everyone just being themselves, when do I get to just be myself? When do I get to respectfully disagree? When can there be just a little bit of room for me and others who think like me to just be who we are? How many years of being stigmatized, how many sleepless nights does it take to have earned the right for bigotry to be called what it sometimes is -conviction.

Thanks for listening,

Margaret Harvey


Image result for stand alone

Image result for stand alone

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The New Testament as early evidence

According to the Military Historian C. Sanders, there are three tests of reliability for an
historical document: bibliographical, internal, and external tests (47, More than a Carpenter). In the way of explanation of these terms, “the bibliographical test is an examination of the transmission by which documents reach us. In other words, not having the original documents, how reliable are the copies we have in regard to the number of manuscripts and the time interval between the original and extant copy?” We can appreciate the tremendous wealth of manuscript authority of the New Testament by comparing it with textual material from other notable ancient sources. Over 20, 000 copies of New Testament manuscripts are in existence today (in comparison to about on average 20 for other ancient works)....and the interval between the dates of original composition and the earliest extant evidence becomes so small as to be in fact negligible (often in the area of 1000 years compared to roughly 100 years in the case of the New Testament). As New Testament Greek scholar J. Harold Greenlee states: “Since scholars accept as generally trustworthy the writings of the ancient classics even though the earliest MSS were written so long after the original writings and the number of extant manuscripts is in many instances so small, it is clear that the reliability of the New Testament is likewise assured. The application of the bibliographical test to the New Testament assures us that it has more manuscript authority than any piece of literature from antiquity. Adding to that authority the more than 100 years of intensive New Testament textual criticism, one can conclude that an authentic New Testament text has been established (47-49, More than a Carpenter).”

Demonstrating that the number of manuscripts continues to grow from the above earlier dated source, Josh McDowell states in Evidence for Christianity, copyright 2006, that “we have close to, if not more than 25, 000 manuscript copies of portions of the New Testament in existence today. No other document of antiquity even begins to approach such numbers and attestation.” “F. E. Peters states that on the basis of manuscript tradition alone, the works that made up the Christians' New Testament were the most frequently copied and widely circulated books of antiquity. As a result, the fidelity of the New Testament text rests on a multitude of manuscript evidence (60, Evidence for Christianity).” As McDowell states, in quoting Norman Geisler, the importance of the sheer number of manuscript copies cannot be overstated. As with other documents of ancient literature, there are no known extant (currently existing) original manuscripts of the Bible. Fortunately, however, the abundance of manuscript copies makes it possible to reconstruct the original with virtually complete accuracy.” McDowell adds in quoting J. W. Montgomery, that “to be skeptical of the resultant text of the New Testament books is to allow all of classical antiquity to slip into obscurity, for no documents of the ancient period are as well attested bibliographically as the New Testament (61, Evidence for Christianity).” It is interesting to note as well, that if the vast quantity of New Testament manuscripts were lost, that much of the New Testament could be reconstructed from the writings of the church fathers alone, with one notable collection in the British Museum containing “86, 489” quotations (75, Evidence for Christianity).

Concerning the question of external sources, the third test (I will come back to the second), addresses whether other historical material confirms or denies the contents of the documents themselves. In other words, do other external sources substantiate what is written in the New Testament. Paul Barnett states the following in drawing on non-Christian written sources: “On the basis of this evidence from non-Christian sources it is possible to draw the following conclusions:
1. Jesus Christ was executed (by crucifixion?) in Judea during the period when Tiberius was emperor (A.D. 14-37) and Pontius Pilate was governor (A.D. 26-36). Tacitus
2. The movement spread from Judea to Rome. Tacitus
3. His followers worshipped him as (a) god. Pliny
4. He was called “the Christ.” Josephus
5. His followers were called “Christians.” Tacitus, Pliny
6. They were numerous in Bithynia and Rome. Tacitus, Pliny
7. His brother was James. Josephus
Barnett concludes that “While the evidence is not extensive, it is noteworthy that it does not in any way conflict with, but rather confirms, the historical information in the New Testament (34, Is the New Testament Reliable)?”

Archaeology as well, has confirmed the accuracy of the book of Luke especially as a detailed, precise historical document. Sir William Ramsay, though initially skeptical and thinking the book of Luke to be a product of the second century was led to conclude from the evidence of his findings that “Luke is a historian of the first that should be placed along with the very greatest of historians.” F.F. Bruce reflects that though “not every scholar would endorse Ramsay's judgment on Luke's technical expertise as a historian; but his detailed accuracy is something which can be checked time and again...our respect for Luke's reliability continues to grow as our knowledge of this field increases (92, The New Testament Documents, Are they Reliable?).” F.F Bruce continues in mentioning archeological finds that have supported the New Testament record, “the middle wall of partition, between Jew and Gentile, spoken of by Paul in Ephesians 2:14, found in a Greek language inscription in Jerusalem in 1871. Other New Testament incidents have been illuminated by archeological discoveries in and around Jerusalem. The Pool of Bethesda, described in John 5:2 (95, The New Testament Documents, Are they reliable?).”

Other issues that have arisen that have been clarified through archeological research including confusion over the census described in Luke, ossuaries (bone boxes) that are evidence of early Christianity, the pavement of the court where Jesus was tried by Pilate, the pool of Bethesda, the Gospels themselves have been authenticated by finds such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, a slab of stone very interestingly with a warning not to disturb graves by Emperor Claudius known as the Nazareth Decree. We also have the remains of a crucifixion victim which confirm the New Testament's description of crucifixion. We have the Pilate inscription validating that Pilate was indeed governor during the time of the life of Jesus, as the inscription notes both his name and title. We have ancient coins, three of which are mentioned in the New Testament, have been identified with reasonable assurance (94-100, Evidence For Christianity).The above is intended as a basic overview of two of the tests that have been employed in evaluating historical sources. However, it seems fitting to quote W.F. Albright at this point: “The excessive scepticism shown toward the Bible by important historical schools of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, certain phases of which still appear periodically, has been progressively discredited. Discovery after discovery has established the accuracy of innumerable details, and has brought increased recognition to the value of the Bible as a source of history.” Add to that conclusion, Nelson Glueck, the renowned Jewish archeologist: “It may be stated categorically that no archeological discovery has ever controverted a biblical reference (91, Evidence for Christianity).”

As Josh McDowell states on page 101 of Evidence for Christianity, “One problem I constantly face is the desire on the part of many to apply one standard or test to secular literature and another to the Bible.” Indeed, we must apply consistent standards. That is something that I have found as well, in my research even for this paper. I was left baffled in attempting similar searches of other ancient sources to discover that every time I typed relevant terms into search engines in this area, Christian apologetics materials inevitably surfaced, even for non-biblical sources, leaving me confused and perplexed. Are there no papers out there defending or explaining other ancient sources, I asked myself. Has anyone ever applied the bibliographical test to Plato or Caesar's Gallic Wars? Where are they? Where is the hyper skepticism that we see for the Bible or does everyone just take everything but the Bible on faith? And so I began to wonder, how do we explain such differing standards, as well as such varying opinions concerning the validity of the Bible if the Bible is clearly the best we have from antiquity? Are scholars not reading the same materials; how then is it, that they come to such dramatically different conclusions?

Here is where I will begin to focus on the internal test for biblical or more specifically, New Testament reliability. Is the document internally consistent; I will come back to this question, but it is here as well that we must begin by addressing the question of worldview, or that lens through which people are interpreting that which they read or study. With this question in mind, “For the past 200 years, the dominant working paradigm for historical Jesus scholarship has been naturalism, the view that nothing exists except for matter, energy, and their interactions according to law and chance -nothing supernatural (227, True Reason).” “Philosophical naturalism is a commitment to a completely natural or material reality...It presents for us a closed system in which everything that can be said to be decidedly true or known must function within the assumption that God does not exist, or at least that he does not involve himself in the world. This presupposition is as common in historical research as it is in scientific inquiry. Rudolf Bultman, perhaps the most infamous and influential NT scholar of the twentieth century, worked from this paradigm. In his view, science had shown it was impossible to give mental assent to the worldview of the Bible. The task set before the New Testament scholar, in his view was to dig through and sift out all the mythology contained within the New Testament, a task he called 'demythologizing.' Many scholars following after Bultmann have operated under the same paradigm. For them it is beyond question that the Jesus of history was and is very different from the Christ of Faith and that central to this new portrait of Jesus is the elimination of the supernatural: no authentic dealings, no miracles, no prophecy, no resurrection (227-228, True Reason).”

I think it is fair to point out as Hardman does that “science has never made a case for the necessity of philosophical naturalism, nor is it within science's competency to do so; it's a question primarily of metaphysics, not science. We cannot say that science has disproved God, for science can only evaluate the natural world.” As Hardman points out (this approach), “denies a priori an open inquiry by failing to allow the possibility that God might intervene in human affairs. It therefore unjustifiably presumes a closed system at the outset and then, based on this, forces the conclusion that miracles do not occur (228, True Reason).” Though history has never justified an atheistic or deistic starting point, this assumption seems to have come into the work of modern historical investigation, that miracles are so uncommon and unlikely that we should assume another explanation, ignoring the fact that reports of miracles come from many parts of the world and are not as uncommon as assumed by western intellectuals. Regardless, for the mere purposes of explaining the materialist worldview by which many come to the New Testament, it is helpful to understand how it is that many such scholars do just that, they come to the New Testament with what is arguably an anti-supernatural bias, the assumption from the get-go that such events do not happen, thus discrediting the New Testament from the outset. As New Testament scholar David DeSilva suggests, “if we can get past an anti-miracle bias and leave open the possibility of such occurrences, the potential of engaging the Gospels and Acts on their own terms increases exponentially (232, True Reason).” As Hardman points out, a naturalistic mindset assumes that God does not exist. If God does exist, in contrast, the possibility of God acting in the natural world exists as well.

With this said, “In the early twentieth century, skeptical German theologians- notably Rudolf Bultman (and others) -applied a discipline called form criticism to the New Testament Gospels. (This method) sought to classify the sayings and narratives of the Gospels into (literary) forms (parables, poetry, etc)... and to give a history of those sayings or narratives and thereby (determine) the purest and oldest form possible. (Also with form criticism was the idea) that tradition served the needs and purposes of the church. That is, the narratives and sayings of the Gospels do not reflect the history of Jesus as much as they reflect the history of the church (233-234, True Reason).” According to Craig Blomberg, “the results of form criticism are highly speculative because they are based on what other ancient cultures did in settings that are not always closely parallel to the rise of Christianity.” Furthermore, as Richard Baukham, in his seminal work Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, states, “Virtually every element in this construction (form criticism) has been questioned and rejected by some or even most scholars. Many of these criticisms are rooted in the much better and fuller information that is now available about the way oral traditions operate in predominantly oral societies (235, True Reason).” As Richard Bauckham states, “The world of the early Christian communities was not a purely oral one, but a predominantly oral society in which written texts had a place that was closely related to orality.” Add to this that we have “good evidence that we do have early written traditions concerning Jesus (237, True Reason).” As Robert Stein states, there is “no need to think that this material was simply memorized by the disciples (237, True Reason).”So, while “Bultmann's model suggested that the disciples almost immediately disappeared into the background of the first century, never to be heard from again, we have ample evidence that suggests that eyewitnesses stood at the forefront of the traditions. Firstly, we know from Paul's letters of their continued presence in early Christianity. Paul regularly interacted with the original disciples throughout his own missionary journeys. Second, Jesus' disciples would have been respected and sought after for their authority as sources about the life and teaching of Jesus....In other words, the apostles were continually active in the transmission of the Jesus tradition...the importance of the eyewitnesses in the early Christian movement...suggests that they may have had an important role in the control of the traditions of the words and deeds of Jesus. This is, of course, what the Biblical record claims and early Christian tradition attributes to the Gospels (242, True Reason).”

And so in contrast to the form critics who assumed that the early church did not have an interest in recording the events of the life of Jesus with the intent of being historically accurate, “as the twentieth century progressed, the classification of biography increasingly seemed to fit, in a way that is now almost universally accepted. Ancient biography did not involve a lack of reliable historical interest....biography was firmly rooted in historical fact rather than literary fiction...the very fact that the evangelists chose to adapt Greco-Roman biographical conventions to tell the story of Jesus indicates that they were centrally concerned to communicate what they thought really happened (243, True Reason).”

It is important to note that the Gospel writers themselves claim to be eyewitnesses. As the Gospel of Luke states in it's opening passage, “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those from the beginning were eyewitnesses...” Or, as second Peter states, “For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” As Hardmann attests,“the view that the ancient historians utilized little to no filter for distinguishing truth from fiction needs to be Lucian wrote in the second century, “the historian’s sole task is to tell the tale as it happened (245, True Reason).”

And so in coming back to the internal test for historical reliability and asking the question, are the New Testament sources internally consistent? As J. P. Moreland states, in Scaling the Secular City, “the internal test asks whether the document itself claims to be actual history written by eyewitnesses...Prima facie it would seem that a strong case could be made for the fact that much of the New Testament, including the Gospels and the sources behind them, was written by eyewitnesses. This is mentioned explicitly in a number of places (Luke 1: 1-4, Gal. 1, 2 Peter 1:16). Further, apostolic position in the early church was widely known to include the qualification of being an eyewitness (Acts 1:21-22, Heb. 2:3), a qualification which shows that the early church valued the testimony of eyewitnesses and believed she had eyewitnesses leading her. The early speeches of Acts refer to the knowledge of unbelieving audiences (e.g., Acts 2:22) and no historian I know of doubts that Christianity started in Jerusalem just a few weeks after the death of Jesus in the presence of friendly and hostile eye-witnesses (137, Scaling the Secular City).”

Moreland continues in stating that “as Gottschalk reminds us, a document should be assumed trustworthy unless, under burden of proof, it is shown to be seems clear that the New Testament writers were able and willing to tell the truth. They had very little to gain and much to lose for their efforts. For one thing, they were mostly Jewish theists. To change their religion (without due grounding would be to risk damnation)...and yet they lived lives of great hardship and (most) died martyrs deaths for their convictions. There is no adequate motive for their labours other than a sincere desire to proclaim what they believed to be the truth (138, Scaling the Secular City). As Moreland continues, “the presence of adverse eyewitnesses would have hampered the spread of Christianity. Christianity began, and remained for some time, in the same area where Jesus had ministered. If the portrait of him was untrue, how could the apostles have succeeded there?” Moreland also points to the consistency of the Christian faith, it's agreement on core doctrines as consistent with the testimony of early witnesses that though they may disagree on details, a solid core of testimony remains (page 138, Scaling the Secular City).

And this is where in keeping the above conclusion of Moreland in mind, “a solid core of testimony remains,” I will address, though briefly, some of the current challenges I have noted from the secular culture concerning the general reliability of scripture. What I have observed from debates I have listened to and articles I have read, etc., is that much of what is written as skeptical material, challenging traditional Christianity seems to be overblown. For example, Bart Ehrman in Misquoting Jesus, implies as the subtitle states (The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why), that there has been a sinister mishandling of the evidence, and yet when pressed, Ehrman will admit that no core Christian doctrine is in question. Surely he must know that it has been given as high as 99 percent textual accuracy and that the vast majority of variants in the manuscripts do not affect meaning and amount to differences in spelling and word order, etc. Similarly, in a follow-up to the above, Bart Ehrman's Forged: Why the Bible's Authors are Not Who We Think They Are, seems to imply deceit on the part of the early church. And yet again, we have early and consistent support from the church fathers to support the traditional authorship of the Gospels and have similar support for the use of many of the books of the New Testament from within decades of their authorship. For example, Ignatius, c. 108 AD, quotes or refers to 24 of the 27 books of the New Testament (Is the New Testament Reliable, 40).

I found it interesting to learn that Augustine was answering the same challenges in the fourth century and had asked in response to similar challenges in his time, do we ask this of other sources? I find myself asking similarly, would the early church have read and viewed as sacred, documents of which they did not know the origin? Furthermore, my understanding is that there is no competing tradition and even if the works are anonymous, they are still the earliest references which have a long history of being authoritative, much like the canon of English literature. Hamlet and Paradise Lost have the reputation they do for a reason, because they have proven themselves over and over again and have passed the test of time, much like the canonical Gospels.

I wonder sometimes, if similar accusations were to surface regarding Shakespeare's works, if people would be so easily fooled, but then again, people are still reading and being taught Shakespeare. But here, for good measure, “John, who obviously knew all of the apostles, had a disciple named Polycarp (A.D. 69-105), and Polycarp had a disciple named Irenaeus (130-202). Polycarp and Irenaeus collectively quote 23 of the 27 New Testament books as if they are authentic -and in some cases they specifically say they are authentic. Irenaeus explicitly affirms the authorship of all four Gospels. Furthermore, through the historian Eusebius, we know that Papias (60-120) affirmed the authorship of Matthew and Mark. And no one doubts the authorship of the major works of Paul...most of the New Testament was accepted before the year A.D. 200. (I Don't Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist, 368).”

In another controversial work, Jesus Interrupted, Ehrman points to contradictions in details of the accounts while seemingly failing to realize that historians trained in the historical method would not see such differences as worrisome, as Ehrman clearly does. Again, there is a core similitude that is consistent with cardinal Christian doctrines and asking was it one angel or two angels at the tomb, etc., points to the possibility of two independent witnesses (or a focusing in on one account or individual, etc.), who both acknowledge an empty tomb. This point again seems to be lost on Ehrman and other hyper critical scholars. There is also, I might suggest, a failure to interpret the accounts within the genre in which they are written, imposing what appears to be a modernist skepticism over gaining an understanding of literary devices or conventions that would have been accepted within the genre of Greco-Roman biography ie., changes in order of events, spotlighting, time-compression, etc. Authorship may be implied in this (genre) sense as well in some instances, in noting that Peter is spoken of in the opening and closing passages of the Gospel of Mark as is the case in other ancient works, possibly indicating that Peter is the work's author. It could be asked as well, if the church was seeking to merely apply the names of well-known figures, why then would they not have chosen Peter as the author of Mark?

Concerning another Ehrman work “Lost Christianities,” books that have been discovered at Nag Hammadi display a very different theology than the theology of the New Testament and clearly show a second century and onward Greek influence. The dates of these later works really do tell the story, if I may suggest. They were not excluded from the canon as is often alleged, as they were simply not present in the first century to be excluded. These are later works, in short, which show other cultural and theological influences, often a Greek influence which was the dominant cultural influence of the time. In contrast, the Jesus of the New Testament consistently describes the Jesus of history in his first century Jewish milieu.

Finally, yet another Ehrman book, How Jesus became God, seems to suggest on the surface that the belief in Jesus as divine developed over time, and yet it is apparent from the opening pages of Mark, thought by many to be the earliest Gospel, that this is clearly not the case. As noted in secondary sources, the supernatural is inseparable from the historical Jesus (Josephus, for example) as well as the belief in Jesus as God (Pliny the Younger, writing in A.D. 112). The crucifixion, one of the most attested facts we have about Jesus, implies that there had to be a charge. Ironically, my source on the latter fact and implication is none other than Bart Ehrman's blog.

So, that's a quick engagement of some key challenges to the Christian faith that are out there in the culture. In quoting Craig Blomberg on the general reliability of the synoptic Gospels in confronting these cultural challenges, “when one realizes that historical research regularly seeks to harmonize apparently conflicting testimonies, it becomes clear that it is disingenuous to disparage this method in the way so many today do when it is applies to the Gospels. And even if a few of the apparent contradictions were regarded as errors...the general trustworthiness of the Gospels could easily remain untarnished. The student who takes the time to read any three reliable historians' accounts of other ancient figures or events will frequently find much more variation among them than he encounters in the Synoptics (195, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels).

And so, having considered the historicity of the works themselves, and in so turning to the question of internal consistency regarding personal integrity of the authors in question. Here, Geiger and Turek list ten reasons why the New Testament writers give every appearance of being truthful: “in including embarrassing details about themselves, as well as numerous embarrassing details and difficult sayings of Jesus in addition to demanding sayings of Jesus. They carefully distinguish Jesus' words from their own. They include events about the Resurrection that they would not have invented. They include at least thirty historically confirmed public figures in their writings. They include divergent details. They challenge their readers to check out verifiable facts, even facts about miracles. They describe miracles like other historical events: with simple, unembellished accounts. Finally, they abandoned their own long-held sacred beliefs and practices, adopted new ones, and did not deny their testimony under persecution or threat of death (297, I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist).”
Just in the way of mentioning, I know that evidence continues to surface that indicates that the New Testament shows every indication of indeed being eye-witness testimony. In terms of the writers knowledge of the landscape, vegetation, trees, and even the frequency with which names appear in the New Testament is consistent with evidence found in archeological excavations of grave sites of Palestine dating from the first century (my source on the latter fact is Peter Williams). Archaeology is still a fairly new field but what I am hearing is that evidence continues to surface as do manuscripts of the New Testament which continue to bring us closer to the original. That is a good thing, said with this history of this field in mind, objective evidence being preferred over generalized interpretation.

In summary, in the words of Gary Habermas, “the New Testament fares exceptionally well in terms of its historical reliability, actually exceeding what is often expected of an ancient text. We have in the New Testament essentially what the authors originally penned, and the texts have been confirmed time and again by various means. Tough questions will always have to be addressed, but we have a highly evidenced document from which to proceed (174, Why I am a Christian).” With this conclusion in mind, what I have found over the years is that by paying attention to dates of sources as well as in differentiating between what skeptical writers imply versus what we know in terms of objective facts about Jesus has a way of separating the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. That's how I manage to keep a clear head, when there is so much competing information out there on Jesus, simply by checking dates and reading the earliest sources which despite all the controversy, are still found in the pages of the New Testament. The orthodox Christian church has always held to the earliest sources, which remain closest to the historical Jesus in terms of geography and time and his own first century Jewish surroundings. The New Testament writers may disagree on details or points of emphasis, but they don't disagree on cardinal doctrines.

In conclusion, It amazes me to learn as I have, and my source on the following is Gary Habermas, that the field of critical Jesus research has changed much in the last number of decades from a heightened skepticism to a new understanding that what we have in some passages of the New Testament is extremely early testimony. Paul, though writing decades later, is recounting events and repeating creeds from within a few years of the crucifixion. Given that these early creeds or hymns would also have needed time to develop, the critical consensus of the majority of scholars is that we are sitting on the first century events in question! Added to that, is that these are key events as relating to the formation of Christian doctrine, including the death, burial, empty tomb and belief in post-mortem appearances of Jesus. In other words, the heart and soul of the Christian faith as grounded in the resurrection is gaining acceptance as being consistent with the accepted facts of the Jesus of history. Scholars are realizing that there is simply no time for miracle accounts or belief in Jesus' divinity to have developed into anything other than what the early church originally believed him to be, the divine Word of God made flesh.

As I've heard N.T. Wright express, there has to be an explanation of how devout monotheistic Jews, who did not believe in a physical resurrection until the end of time (and resurrections in first century Jewish theology were understood to be physical), came to believe that Jesus had been bodily resurrected. Historically speaking (again, according to theologian and historian N.T. Wright), if something is new, it requires explanation. How then do we explain the rise of the early Christian movement from within the first century Jewish community? What changed the disciples from fearful deniers and doubters, to bold proclaimers? It should be recognized, in short, that the Resurrection has explanatory power in explaining the rise of Christianity.

I'll close with the words of Paul, from a letter few would contest was written by Paul, as he himself describes having received the following from the early church within a few years of the crucifixion, what amounts to the foundation of our faith. I come back to these central facts through my own uncertainty and I'm reminded, that clearly the newly formed church through much opposition, came back to these central facts too, what they could never have invented, that which they did not understand, yet which confirmed, such extraordinary claims.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. (1 Corinthians, 15: 3, 4).

Margaret Harvey


Barnett, Paul. Is the New Testament Reliable? Downer's Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003.

Blomberg, Craig L. The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (Second Edition), Downer's Grove: IVP Academic, 2007.

Bruce, F.F. The New Testament Documents: Are they Reliable? Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1981.

Geisler, Norman and Turek, Frank. I Don't have Enough Faith to be an Atheist. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2004.

Gilson, Tom and Weitnauer, Carson, editors. True Reason: Confronting the Irrationality of the New Atheism. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2012.

McDowell, Josh, Evidence for Christianity. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2006.

McDowell, Josh. More Than a Carpenter Wheaton, Illinois: Living Books, 1973.

Moreland, J. P. : Scaling the Secular City: A Defence of Christianity. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1987.


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