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Have I ever noticed how crazy the teachings of Jesus are?

Yes. Yes, I have.

Have anything in particular in mind?

Was that question directed at me, Asa?

Sure!

:)


All right, how about these:

"If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it."

"Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day."

"Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you."

"And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloak forbid not to take thy coat also."


Ok, and I'm not saying I disagree with you, but for the sake of discussion, what about each of these 'sayings' is it that you find 'crazy'?

Are you serious, Asa?

I really have to explain why it is crazy to believe that by snacking on the body and blood of a reanimated man-god one can live forever?

Well, for the sake of discussion, yes, I'm serious.

Indeed, if we're talking about 'ridiculousness', you might have started with a different one of those verses, especially when you ignore the obviously figurative intent of the one that you do pick.

I mean for me, the more interesting places to start revolve around the moving mountains, or the driving out of daemons, or that kind of thing. The symbolism of the Eucharist is fairly obvious, isn't it?

And, just so you don't think I'm Bible-thumping you or anything, I'm not a Christian - but I do think that it's important to give the subject matter a fair treatment if you're going to discuss it in a public forum.

So that's where I'm coming from.

"Obviously figurative intent?" My friend, there are millions of Catholics alive today, and many more deceased, for whom the verse is literally true, so I'm not sure how obvious the original intent was.

Indeed, any of the verses I listed could be defended as metaphorical or symbolic, and probably have been.

But even if Jesus was speaking metaphorically about cannibalism, it's still damned crazy thing to say.

And for all your assurances to the contrary, you seem to have an unusual amount of affection for Christianity for someone who professes not to be a Christian.

I think it's time to lay your cards on the table, Asa.

Of course I’m aware that millions of Catholics believe that the bread and wine literally transubstantiate into flesh and blood, as I’m sure you’re aware that millions of Protestants believe that they do not. I don’t think anyone would disagree, Catholic, Protestant, Agnostic, Atheist or whatever that a lot of Christians (and non-Christians) have come up with some pretty bizarre interpretations of what Jesus meant when he said certain things.

So, you can make two criticisms – on one hand, you can criticise the interpretations that people come up with for what Jesus said (or at least he allegedly said), but on the other it’s only really fair to call what he says ‘crazy’ if you also understand the intent of what he’s saying.

As far as I can see, there are a number of reasons that this passage is fairly obviously intended figuratively:-

1 – He refers to the wine as the ‘fruit of the vine’, which he would not drink again. How does this make sense if he’s about to magically turn it into his own blood?

2 – In the original Eucharist, there’s no suggestion that they’re drinking actually blood, or eating actual flesh – Jesus draws the metaphor, then acts it out.

3 – Metaphorical teachings of this nature were incredibly common in Jewish culture.

4 – The phrase ‘do this in remembrance of me’ further suggests the metaphorical intent – he’s setting up a tradition, rather than talking about the magical transformation of wine into blood etc.

So, what reasons do you have to think that Jesus is actually saying that there’s a physical transubstantiation taking place?

As for your allegation that I’m not being honest about my position – I’m not quite sure what to say to you. I’ve tried to be very up front from square one on this blog about what my position is (which is more than I can say for you) – indeed, Don actually responded to an email that I wrote to him a few months ago on his show which also clarified my position, so feel free to go back and check if you don’t believe me.

But as I alluded to in one of the other posts – just because I’m not a Christian for what I believe to be good reasons, it doesn’t mean that all reasons not to be a Christian are good ones.

I really have no interest in speculating on whether the gospel writers intended the verse in question to be taken literally or not. Ritual cannibalism, even metaphorically, is the product of a deranged mind.

Have you really been up front, Asa? All you have said is that you're not a Christian. That leaves open quite a few possibilities, obviously. And I can't help but notice, even after being asked directly, you have refused to detail your beliefs or philosophy. Why so coy?

As for my sincerity, my comments represent my outlook quite adequately to the attentive reader. To spell it out for you, I'm an atheist.

Your turn!

I'm an agnostic, as I specifically mentioned in the email to Don's radio show that I invited you to listen to.

I'm intrigued to know whether you think that clouds my judgement, though I'm also wondering why you seem to be more interested in speculating about my own theological position than debating the facts at hand? Does my own worldview make any difference do you think?

And, as I've repeatedly asked YOU directly, would you mind explaining why a metaphorical reading of the Eucharist IS deranged?

You still haven't got past that stage.

I might have listened to the show if I knew which one it was. All you said was that it was from a few months ago, and none of the show descriptions I read mentioned you by name. Honestly, I haven’t listened to the show for quite a while now, ever since Don praised the 9-11 terrorists for following what they believed to be the will of their god.

I don’t think agnosticism necessarily clouds your judgment, no. Frankly, I find discussing one’s theological positions far more interesting than speculating on the interpretation of a bizarre Bible quote. And yes, your worldview does make a difference just as much as mine or anyone else’s.

I suppose what makes even a metaphorical interpretation deranged is the imagery itself—instead of invoking something pleasant like water or flowers or baby bunnies, we are left contemplating a gruesome buffet. It isn’t as insane as the literal interpretation, but it is still damned grisly.

Fair comment - I don't suppose I should have expected you to go back and listen to every one of Don's shows!!!

I agree - worldviews do make a difference, as, after all, that's what I think we're here to discuss. However what I meant was that I think it's unfair to try to undermine my argument by casting aspersions on my own worldview (or any perceived lack of clarity therein).

Back to this specific quote, I think there are two points to make here:

1) The imagery is grizzly, simply because what happened subsequently WAS grizzly. As the story goes, what happened to Jesus was not exactly sweetness and light, after all. However the imagery also specifically evokes self-sacrifice, which to be honest, doesn't seem all that deranged to me.

2) The metaphor in question here is a little more subtle than simple cannibalism. When they ate the bread, Jesus wasn't asking them to imagine that they were chowing down on one of his fingers. Matthew's Gospel is straightforward, telling the disciples to 'eat' his body, but in Luke the eating isn't even mentioned, and Jesus instead draws the metaphor out in more detail, placing the significance in the breaking of the bread, and his own self sacrifice, rather than any kind of benefit gained from it's actual comsumption.

Just to make my position clear, I wasn't attempting to undermine your argument by slandering your worldview; I was simply challenging the claim you had rejected Christianity when I could find no evidence of this in your comments in either tone or substance. What I was calling into question was your sincerity, or consistency, not the merits of your philosophy.

Returning to the quote in question, I would suggest before you allow yourself to get too misty-eyed about this so-called self-sacrifice, keep in mind what it's really all about: the sadistic murder of an innocent scapegoat for the dubious crime of original sin.

If we can't agree THAT is the product of a deranged mind, then I fear there is precious little we will ever agree upon.

I still don't understand the "deranged mind" part, no. If anything, the doctrine of atonement conforms more to the cultural types of the time, and has roots that stretch back to ancient times.

Whether Jesus drew on these types himself, or had them attributed to him after his death (I suspect a little bit of both), I don't think it takes a 'deranged mind' to apply pre-existing cultural types into the context of the events that they're living through.

So no, I don't think that the picture you're painting here is an accurate reflection of Christian doctrine really. If you want to keep hammering on the 'deranged' stuff, I'd have thought the more obvious place to start would be Paul.

In short, I think that if we're going to find any common ground on this one, you're going to need to give a bit more flesh to why you've chosen this description of Christian doctrine:

"the sadistic murder of an innocent scapegoat for the dubious crime of original sin."

I thought my description of the Christian doctrine of salvation was rather succint, but I'll spell it out for you.

Jesus is the scapegoat, the innocent who is brutally sacrificed for the trifling transgression of Adam and Eve, that of eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Instead of simply forgiving them, God curses Adam and Eve and brings suffering and death into an otherwise idyllic world, a punishment which far exceeds the so-called crime.

And what is the Christian solution to this problem? A blood sacrifice, of course! Namely, the brutal torture and execution a completely innocent being, the aforementioned scapegoat, Jesus.

The fact that it is has ancient roots or was part of the culture is beside the point; it's a scheme that is diabolical, immoral, and, yes, deranged.

It was succinct, only insofar as it missed the nuance that orthodox Christian doctrine gives the concept. If you're going to criticise the Christian worldview, it's only really fair to do so if you give it the full nuance that Christians do - otherwise you're doing nothing but critiquing a straw man, and as such wasting your energy.

You (should) know as well as I do that according to Christian doctrine, Jesus was more than just some bloke in ancient Palestine upon whom God decided to lump the punishment for all of mankind's sin.

And I'm afraid that understanding the cultural context is absolutely crucial, before you're going to start labelling people 'deranged' or 'diabolical'. If you cannot appreciate this, then you're in no position to pronounce such grandiose moral judgement.

First of all, to accuse me of constructing a straw man argument because I didn't describe Jesus as divine is ludicrous. Nowhere did I state or even imply he was anything less--I have previously decribed him as a "man-god." Who's contructing straw men now?

I understand the cultural context perfectly well--there is a long tradition of blood sacrifice and scapegoating. I'm saying these concepts as they are used in the Christian doctrine of salvation are diabolical. I wouldn't label this characterization unfair or grandiose in the least.

But then, if this scheme makes so much sense to you, or if my reasons for rejecting it are so poor, why don't you outline your arguments for dismissing it and Christianity as a whole?

Could you just point me to the part of the below where you specifically recognise Jesus' divinity according to orthodox Christian doctrine:

"the sadistic murder of an innocent scapegoat for the dubious crime of original sin."

"Jesus is the scapegoat, the innocent who is brutally sacrificed for the trifling transgression of Adam and Eve, that of eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Instead of simply forgiving them, God curses Adam and Eve and brings suffering and death into an otherwise idyllic world, a punishment which far exceeds the so-called crime."

It's not there, is it.For that reason alone (and there are one or two others), your characterisation is indeed inaccurate enough to be considered a straw-man. For Christians, this isn't a trifling aside we're talking about, it's key to the whole story, and for you to twice miss it suggests to me that your characterisation isn't particularly fair.

Really, you're still not explaining anything to me. All I can see from you so far is a couple of characterisations which are materially incomplete, or inaccurate, and then you're just calling them names (we started with deranged, now we're onto diabolical - not sure what exactly you mean by either). Believe it or not, I don't think your conclusions are self-evident, so I think you need to do a better job of going through the logical steps you're taking to reach them, because right now they're not altogether convincing.

Why I'm not a Christian is not a question I have time to answer fully, but there are several reasons. First, there are a number of elements of the Christian god which strike me as logically incoherent. It would take me a bit of time to run through them in great detail, but a simplified version would be the Epicurean dilemma. I've never heard a satisfactory Christian answer to this problem.

Second, I simply observe the world around me, and do not feel the need to implant a God to explain it. There are Christian (or generally theistic) arguments for God's existence which I've heard, and some of which are reasonably compelling, but I've not found any of them forceful enough to convince me of the presence of an invisible, yet omnipotent, omni-benevolent (etc) creator of the universe.

I have further, yet perhaps less decisive problems with the Bible, and certain aspects of standard Christian doctrine, yet to me the above two are the main reasons that I consider myself an agnostic.

Does anyone else actually write here anyway?

Can I direct you to where I recognized Jesus' divinity? Of course. Just scroll up this page to the seventh comment where I wrote the following:

"I really have to explain why it is crazy to believe that by snacking on the body and blood of a reanimated MAN-GOD one can live forever?"

Really, Asa, this is getting tedious. You accuse me of false characterizations, and I either prove you wrong, as I just did, or you otherwise fail to substantiate your charge. Either detail exactly how and why my arguments are unfair, or move on.

On a more agreeable note, I am an atheist at least in part for the same reasons you cited for your agnosticism.

As far as anyone else commenting here, I really can't say. I'm afraid you're stuck with me, at least for the moment.

One brief allusion to something, and then failing to even mention it again on either of the occasions that you tried to add more flesh to your characterisation does strike me as inaccurate, yes, especially as the second effort was supposed to 'spell it out'. To leave that part out is indeed to create a characterisation that is lacking of enough nuance to render it fair and representative of what Christians actually believe, and thus I'd say it's reasonable to call that a straw-man.

You can have a third go, if you like, but you're right, this is somewhat tedious. I am glad that we have at least finally found some common ground somewhere (I knew we would!), but the problem with you and I finding common ground is that there seems to be nobody here to properly discuss it! I was kind of hoping that Don (or someone else) would pop up again, but he seems to be noticeably absent from his own blog!

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