James posted a comment on my Wordpress blog and Sharon responded on FriendFeeds regarding my recent article "Jesus et. al". My answers to them are below. Because James posted first, I responded to him first and then Sharon:
He claims that my alternative interpretation of similarities in regligion "doesn't accord well with the facts". However, he fails to back this up in any substantive way. Instead, he chooses to attack my conception of God and pontificate on my misunderstandings of Christian and Jewish tradition.
It also doesn’t speak well to your conception of God, as a being that uses an inefficient means to pass on and preserve this initial narrative. - James
I'm not sure what he is trying to say here. Is he saying that written communication is inefficient for God a clear communication recording once, but perverted in numerous other traditions is inefficient?
Effectiveness of the Written Word
There are, of course, other methods God could have used to spread His message. He could have pre-programmed us with the knowledge of His message, spoken to each of us from heaven in a booming voice individually, sent angels to tell and reminds us, etc. However, God chose to use (1) direct communication to certain individuals who (2) wrote down that revelation (3) which others can learn from and share. Knowing whether this was the best method would require knowing all of God's goals in such communication. If simply making a set of principles known to all human beings was the goal, the method does seem inefficient compared to other possible methods. However, if God's goals in communicating also including other purposes, such as, challenging us to be a part of the process of communicating truth to others, it would not be so inefficient.
For example, consider Jesus's ministry. He frequently spoke to the people in parables, which purposely obfuscated the message. When the disciples asked Jesus why He taught in parables, He replied that it was given to them to know, but not to others [Matt. 13:11]. Therefore, it is clear that simply having every person understand a set of principles is not God's only goal in giving His word and it is erroneous to claim His method is inefficient on that basis.
Perversions Throughout History
Given that many rejected the truth, it is unsurprising that many deviations and erroneous versions would crop up, especially if we consider the goals of Satan to deceive men into any world view other than God's truth. By distorting or removing essential parts that people don't like, he can ensnare them with half-truths, keeping them from the truth of salvation from sin through Jesus Christ. As an added bonus, he can tell others that there are so many "truths" out there that determining the right one is too difficult, so why bother. That God allows this to occur is similar to His tolerance of evil in the world in order to respect our freewills.
The Old Testament does include passages that suggest the Messiah would atone for sins. I have already mentioned two of them. In Daniel 9:26, speaking specifically of Messiah, Daniel declares that Messiah would be "cut off, but not for himself". In Isaiah 53, the righteous servant is clearly presented as suffering and dying for "the iniquity of us all". Even if one rejects that this is a reference to the Messiah, as modern Judaism does along with it's rejection of Christ, the Old Testament or Jewish scriptures clearly present the idea of one man atoning for the sins of "us all", making such connection much more than "retroactive" interpretations.
Serpent of Genesis
The timing of the revelation of the connection between Satan and the serpent is peripheral to the point I was making. Furthermore, the description of hatred between the "seed of the woman" and the seed of the serpent, with the eventual crushing of the serpents head does not make sense in the context of a normal serpent. It is clear that God is referring to something or someone beyond the serpent.
Corrupted Narrative vs. Pure Invention
Yes. I believe the evidence strongly indicates a divine Creator. As such, it seems more likely that He would try to communicate with us. Given some divine communication, I would not be surprised if many misunderstood/distorted it over time, leading to many world views that shared some similarities, one of which is true and the rest being false by varying degrees.
As for determining the true narrative, I would look for the one that makes the most sense (reason). That is, the one that best explains all of reality as we know it. Obviously, that's a simple answer to a very complex problem. I would be interested in exploring it by degrees if any one else is interested.
The Judaic concept of God being one in essence and person, may be more monotheistic than the concept of a triune Godhead, three persons who are one in essence, but this designation does set Christianity apart from the other mythologies brought up in the original article, which is the point I was trying to make. Despite some similarities, all these views are not the indistinguishable. They all have unique views that set them apart from the others and can be used to differentiate between them and evaluate them for varying levels of veracity.
One over the other
You cannot offer any actual evidence to prefer one mythology of another. - James
I offered one argument which you completely ignored. I argued that a coherent moral system demands consistency, which would seem to favor monotheism over pantheism. Furthermore, most world views make clear claims about reality which can be examined. For example, the Greek gods were believed to live atop Mt. Olympus. This myth is demonstrably false.
Furthermore, it should be noted that we can't ignore or origins or our past. Even if one were incapable of differentiating between the true and the untrue, there is no view which would be true by default, such as the view that the natural world is all that exists.
So it's okay to choose a religious system because we *want* it to be consistent? That seems rather dangerous to me. Shouldn't we be choosing what we have evidence for? - Sharon
I'm not exactly sure what Sharon is contending. It seems to me that something which is internally consistent (that is, does not contradict itself) is much more likely to be true than something which contradicts itself (which, according to the law of non-contradiction, would be, by definition, false). In evaluating a world view, I would look for two major things in general: internal consistency (consistency with itself) and external consistency (consistent with our observations of reality).
I suspect this is the distinction Sharon is making when she appeals to "what we have evidence for". If so, we agree on this point. "42" might be internally consistent, but it really has no connection with the reality we experience, nor does it seem to offer any explanation for how the world works or where it came from.
That said, I do think it is reasonable to draw some conclusions or rule out some alternatives based on the end result. For example, take two views:
1 - A deep space asteroid will come flying through space and destroy the earth a week from now, killing us all.
2 - The world will last for many more years and so will we.
Both views dictate what actions we might take over the next week. One believing the asteroid was going to destroy the earth might conclude that saving money or working towards a better future is pointless. It's certainly possible. It might be true. However, I would argue that if it is true, everything, including truth, is pretty meaningless anyway. Therefore, it would be best to act as if 2 is true, even if the truth of it's claim is impossible to determine. The reason for this is that 2 is the only option that leaves any room for hope of meaning.
If you've ever seen House, a better example of what I'm talking about might be when his team can't determine if the patient has condition A or B, but House says to treat for B because if they have A, the patient is dead no matter what.
Morality is such an issue. Without it, nothing is wrong and nothing is right. Yet, we all have some sense of morality. Some belief in "good" and "fair" as opposed to that which is "wrong" or "evil". Furthermore, we believe that based on this sense, we can expect others not to "wrong" us. We expect that we can say to some one else "you ought not to murder children for fun, it is wrong". Such condemnation demands an absolute, consistent morality, which is inconsistent with world views lacking higher authorities than ourselves (atheism, naturalism, humanism, etc.) or divided/ineffective highest powers (pantheism). This isn't just an observation of desirability, it's an observation of our own innate sense of the world.
Good and Evil
The evidence in the world supports more strongly an inconsistent god(s) than a consistent one. (Not that I think it supports evidence for a god at all, but if I had to pick, quarreling gods who constantly overrule themselves would make way more sense.) Sure, it's nice to believe that "God" is always there and on our side, but it's not really consistent with the world we live in. Wars, genocide, suicide, divorce, murder, rape, etc. - Sharon
I disagree. I don't see how the things you list indicate an inconsistent God or set of gods as more likely than a single consistent God. It is clear that any belief in the divine must deal with the problem of evil. Conversely, any belief that the divine does not exist (or is mixed) must deal with the problem of good.
And this among Christians as frequently as any other religion. - Sharon
What is your basis for this claim of equal evil?
On Desireable Outcomes
We can want there to be a consistent moral understanding based on a monotheistic system all we want. It'd be great. But it's important to recognize that merely wanting something does not usually grant it - Sharon
Agreed. The question is definitely much more difficult and complex than "what do we want". However, that doesn't mean we are doomed to meaningless disappointment and after that oblivion.