Tag Archives: Apologetics

Buddhist Apologists

Inspired by: “The Making of Buddhist Modernism” by David L. McMahan, 2008. (see my Index post)

In chapter 2, “The Spectrum of Tradition and Modernism”, McMahan creates five fictional (yet typically realistic) portraits of very different types of Buddhist believers:

  • A Western Buddhist Sympathizer
  • A Thai Laywoman
  • An American Dharma Teacher
  • A Traditional Monk
  • An Asian Modernizer

The “Traditional Monk”, in his portrait, is from the same Tibetan Buddhist sect as the Dalai Lama called “Gelugpa”.  McMahan tells us how meditation is only a small part of the 20 years of training to obtain the sect’s Buddhist Ph.D. (“geshe”).  Instead of meditation, the monks train largely in philosophy, doctrinal debate and rituals.  Of that training he states [red emphasis is mine]:

“Although Tibetan Buddhism is modernizing in many ways, the curricula at its monastic training centers are still essentially traditional–that is, their purpose is to investigate, interpret, and reaffirm normative truths, in contrast to the liberal education model in the West, which is pluralistic and ideally encourages inquiry not directed to the predetermined conclusions of a specific tradition.    …..
His is not a pluralistic education that presents a wide variety of views and then encourages students to reason their way to their own conclusions.  Alternate view are presented mainly to be critiqued and dismissed.  Thus all the ideas and practices in his monastic training serve to construct a universe that appears unique, realistic, plausible, and coherent.” (pgs 39-40)

This is probably far from the idealized view held by Western Buddhists about their Tibetan monks teachers.  Western devotees can’t imagine the mysterious monks of the Orient being trained with the same blind, narrow training of Christian apologists.  Yet many Western Buddhist are drawn to the wonderful, categorical certainty preached in “Dharma talks” by these monk apologists (and their disciples) in a similar way many Christians are drawn to their apologists.  Certainty can be very comforting.

The apologetic training typified in McMahan’s paragraph above is pervasive not only in religion, but in sciences and nationalistic histories and much more.  Heck, I wonder if even some Atheists train themselves the same way.

The propaganda value due to the internal security of constructing a “unique” world which dismisses others as wholly other can not be underestimated.  The naivety of believing oneself to be wholly different and special than others, is blinding. The word “unique” in the above quote inspired this post and was pre-shadowed by my previous posts on “We aren’t a religion” and “Is your Religion Unique“.

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How to Cure a Christian

This is an index post for an up-coming series.  Medicine is my profession and so the “cure” metaphor comes easily to me.  I realize that such a title is naturally offensive to Christians, but what can I say — this is an Atheist site.  At least I am being honest.  Many years ago when I deconverted from my Christianity, I started writing essays which I entitled “Debunking Christianity”, but now there is a website by that name.  And besides, as I gained distance from Christianity (which was easy since I lived in Asia), I realized that it was person-by-person that we affect each other.  And I realized that cures are complicated because a person’s beliefs are intimately tied into their lives and are not simply composed of a list of propositions.  So rather than debunking an abstract thing called “Christianity”, these essays will focus on the individual Christian.

Well, this is suppose to be an index post, so let’s just start the list.  I will link up titles as I post.  But here are some titles I am imagining:

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Translation Pathways

This diagram illustrates how we get “The Bible”.   The process starts (lower left) with competing versions of Christianity (“competing schools”) and flows clockwise with bias entering in throughout the various steps.  The process is similar for many traditions.  Bias is inevitable in all traditions, religious or otherwise.  But it is important to understand bias which many believers try to ignore.  Below the diagram I explain a few details.



Bias & Religious Agenda

Bias is inevitable.  And most transmissions of the Biblical texts where done by those with strong religious preferences.  These preferences often influence the transmission: intentionally or accidentally.

Canonization

A political process where competing schools of thought are limited or eliminated to establish a Canon.

Extant Texts

We don’t have the Original texts, just scraps, much later texts and translations.  With recent discoveries in the 1900’s our knowledge drastically improved.

Textual Criticism & “Original” Text

Textual criticism is the methods developed to try to improve the probability of approximating the actual original texts.

Hermeneutics

Hermeneutics is the story of interpretation.  This happens after Textual Criticism in order to get a text to translate.  Hermeneutics can happen moving a text into another language (Translation Hermeneutics) or can be at the simple level of making sense of something in your native language — done by specialists or the lay reader.   “Exegesis” is sometimes used similarly, but Hermeneutics is rather broader and contains the theory of translation. (wiki , Sanford)

Original Intent

Translations privileges taken by the translator who feels they understand the intent of the writers.

Word-for Word vs. Dynamic Equivalence

Two methods of approaching translations.  (see wiki article here)

Translation Distortions

More in coming posts.

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Hector Avalos’ Unfortunate Hyperbole

Hector Avalos

Note & thoughts on:
“Introduction

From my series on:
The End of Biblical Studies

by Hector Avalos

The title of Avalos’ book is meant to be an attention grabber — “The End of Biblical Studies” !   Well, we know Biblical studies won’t end soon, nor will his book bring them to an end.    Further, in the introduction he claims the Bible is no longer relevant, which is obviously and blatantly wrong.  He tries to qualify this statement by technically defining “irrelevant” to mean that biblical concepts and practices are no longer valuable, applicable or ethical.  Even to this atheist, such an exaggeration seems pure rhetoric.

Dr. Avalos’ language is full of hyperbole, with all its concomitant shortcomings: Those who believe his thesis will read and rejoice and those who don’t may just focus on his exaggeration. I am guessing that Avalos is simply trying to use hyperbole as a corrective to the gross obfuscations that have protected the Bible to date. If so, I understand his feelings but suspect the hyperbole strategy will unfortunately significantly cut both his readership and the book’s effectiveness.

But if the reader can ignore Dr. Avalos’ exaggerations, the book looks like it will decisively dissect much of Biblical Studies. So much so that any reader who understands his message will walk away with a radically different view of the Bible and how the academy continues to deceptively protect the Bible from real understanding.

Here are a few rather standard objections Avalos makes to the relevance of the Bible:

  • Genocide, a common practice in ancient times, is indeed one of Yahweh’s methods
  • Supernatural explanations for disease and other events are offered for phenomena now understood to occur naturally.
  • Women are put in a subordinate position
  • Statistics of Biblical illiteracy among those who claim the Bible is the precious word of God:
    • only 4/10 Christians knew the Bible claims Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount
    • Christians who NEVER read scripture: 21.9 % protestants, 33.1% Catholics

Avalos points out that there is a long history of individuals who, like him, felt much of the Bible is irrelevant, starting with the early church’s heretical theologian Marcion of Sinope (85-160 AD) who wanted the O.T. excluded from Christianity.  Interestingly on pg. 34 of Misquoting Jesus, Bart Ehrman tells us that Marcion’s effort to establish his special cannon is what stirred the Christian sect which was to become the winning orthodoxy, to establish their own cannon.

At the end of the introduction, Avalos softens his claim by saying “Biblical studies as we know it should end.”  (emphasis mine)   And he is straightforward with his motivation for pursuing this end:

… I hold that secular approaches to life will result in the minimization of human suffering, though not its end.
— Hector Avalos (pg 25)

___________
Related Posts:

  • See Jason Bird’s Simul-blog .  Jason is a reader who decided to read this book along with me and to post on it.  He is a heterodox, un-churched, universalist lay Christian.

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Wow, a god died for me !

wesley_charlesAnd can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain—
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

— by Charles Wes­ley,
Psalms and Hymns, 1738.

Wesley, a leader in the early Methodist movement, asked “How can it be, That Thou, my God shouldst die for me?”  And Christians have sung his wonderment on Sundays for centuries.

This is a favorite emotion that Christians try to cultivate — both one of gratitude and a feeling of being loved.  These two emotions are extremely beneficial.  I see other religious practices culturing these two emotions also.  The culturing of supportive emotions can be very useful — hope, love, thankfulness.  I understand the value of these practices.

But I am not here to discuss this good side of religious practice,  I simply want to address Wesley’s question when it is used as a polemic.  For the question is often asked of non-Christians, “How can you NOT be thankful for the sacrifice of Jesus?
Well, here are my thoughts today:

Human’s die for other humans all the time — it is often a huge mark of bravery. (Of course sometimes it is pure misfortune).   But those humans who intentionally sacrifice themselves for others also often die more horrible deaths than being killed on a cross.  Not only that, they are only 100% human.  They aren’t some magical mixture of 100% god and 100% human, so they have all the fears of a human and none of the god cushion.

Jesus and Thomas So if humans can die for each other, why not a god?  Heck, it is even easier for a god if they know they can pop right back and walk around and meet their old friends 3 days later (picture to right).  Heck, they are a god so they are absolutely sure of that because they made the rules.

I say humans are more brave than the gods in these stories.  For certainly they have less confidence of popping back to life than a god would.   And humans often suffer more than gods do when they sacrifice themselves for other humans and end up dieing in prisons or under lengthy torture.

So to marvel of how Jesus could die for your sins is silly.  It would be very easy for a god to do.  It would be much more tough for a human to do.  That is why the story exists, a human wrote it.

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The Religious Mind

the_religious_mindIf there really was a god, theology would be easy and simple to explain.  Instead, theology generates tangled knots of words as a substitute for their undetectable god.  It is like the complex, elaborate dance of a shaman which is really the whole show, because their ain’t no magic.

Picture is from the book “Made by Mammals“.

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The Real Reason Christians Believe

spirit_in_heartChristians may offer many different sorts of arguments for why they believe in Christianity but usually they are often just fart-logic (see definition here).   You see, the actual reason they know Christianity is true is because that of what that quite little voice in their heart tells them.

A leading Evangelical theologian, William Lane Craig, confirms exactly that:

“The fundamental way in which we know that our faith is true is through the self-authenticating witness of God’s Holy Spirit.  That is to say, God himself, in personal relationship with us, bears witness to us that we are Children of God and we are rightly related to him and that Christianity is therefore true.”
— William Lane Craig

See the video of Craig at “Common Sense Atheism” where Luke explains this better than I do (as always).  Remember, all the reasons Christians give for WHY they believe are usually just fart-logic in that as soon as you shoot down whatever reason they give, they desert that explanation and run to yet another.  And even if you shoot down all these fart-logic arguments, they still believe.  That is because the real reason they believe has nothing to do with the reasons they state.  Their stated beliefs are mere post hoc justifications for usually very simple reasons.

All religions base their faith on the feeling they get inside, so Christianity is no different that all the rest.  Further, Craig used the phrase  “Personal Relationship” which is used extensively by evangelicals.   I have written already on how this phrase is totally manipulated and misused by Christians.

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