Sunday, 29 March 2015

Making Sense of the NT Holy Week Narratives

Happy Palm Sunday everyone!

We have entered the Holy Week and will be commemorating the sufferings of our Lord and celebrating his triumph over sin and death.

As a student of apologetics, this week is more than just prayer, fasting, and Easter eggs for me. 

You see, one of the most common accusations against the credibility of the Bible is the presence of alleged contradictions, especially among the Gospel narratives. 

Here is an example: Did Jesus enter Jerusalem on a colt (Mark 11:7) or a colt and donkey (Matthew 21:7)?




Critics say that Matthew deliberately added the donkey to the event to make his readers believe that Zechariah 9:9 was fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ.

On the surface, this looks a genuine problem. However, the reason why I used the word "alleged" to describe these contradictions is because such accusations can be answered easily.
So, why does Matthew mention two animals? The reason is clear.
Even by looking at Matthew in isolation, we can see from the text that Jesus did not ride on two animals, but only on the colt. For in the two verses preceding the quote in point (b) above by Shabbir, we read Matthew quoting two prophecies from the Old Testament (Isaiah 62:11 and Zechariah 9:9) together. Matthew says:
Say to the Daughter of Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gently and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey’.”
Matthew 21:5
By saying “a donkey” and then “on a colt, the foal of a donkey” Zechariah is using classic Hebrew sentence structure and poetic language known as “parallelism”, simply repeating the same thing again in another way, as a parallel statement. This is very common in the Bible (i.e. Psalm 119:105 mentions, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path,” yet says the same thing twice in succession). It is clear that there is only one animal referred to. Therefore Matthew clearly says Jesus rode only on a colt, in agreement with the other three Gospel writers.
So why does Matthew say that the colt and its mother were brought along in verse seven? The reason is simple. Matthew, who was an eyewitness (where as Mark and Luke were quite possibly not) emphasizes the immaturity of the colt, too young to be separated from its mother. As the colt had never been ridden the probability was that it was still dependent on its mother. It would have made the entry to Jerusalem easier if the mother donkey were led along down the road, as the foal would naturally follow her, even though he had never before carried a rider and had not yet been trained to follow a roadway.
101 Cleared-up Contradictions in the Bible by: Jay Smith, Alex Chowdhry, Toby Jepson, James Schaeffer 

And even if we admit (for the sake argument) that such contradiction exist, we need to remember that they are restricted to the peripheral details surrounding the passion narratives. As in the example above, the Gospel writers are in agreement that Jesus rode into Jerusalem (primary detail) but they apparently disagree on his mode on transportation (secondary detail).

Simon Greenleaf writes:
The discrepancies between the narratives of the several evangelists, when carefully examined, will not be found sufficient to invalidate their testimony. Many seeming contradictions will prove, upon closer scrutiny, to be in substantial agreement; and it may be confidently asserted that there are none that will not yield, under fair and just criticism. If these different accounts of the same transactions were in strict verbal conformity with each other, the argument against their credibility would be much stronger. All that is asked for these witnesses is, that their testimony may be regarded as we regard the testimony of men in the ordinary affairs of life. This they are justly entitled to; and this no honorable adversary can refuse. (Testimony of the Evangelists. Read online here)

If you follow the link, Greenleaf provides examples from actual court room proceedings where surface level disagreements between witnesses were brushed aside because they confirmed the core details surrounding the case. 

Hence, the argument from contradiction doesn't hold any water on closer scrutiny. 




Saturday, 21 March 2015

Nietzsche and the ‘Depravity’ of Christianity: A Brief Response

I call Christianity the one great curse, the one great depravity’

Friedrich Nietzsche is undoubtedly one of the most popular European philosophers, whose work is particularly admired by critics of theism and organized religion.



I haven’t read any of Nietzsche’s books, but studying for my philosophy exam got me acquainted not only with basic Nietzschean beliefs, but his views on Christianity as well.

Despite having a father and paternal grandfather in the clergy, and in spite of engraving a Bible verse on the headstone of his father’s grave out of his own pocket, he never kept his criticisms of faith a secret.

In 1876 at the age of 32, he broke away from his previous affinity to Arthur Schopenhauer’s romanticism. He now believed that shyness was a stupid approach to life. One should pursue all the remarkable things in life with nothing held back.

This was a shift from his earlier notions on fulfillment in life, namely, that a successful life is one where you can minimize pain and inconvenience and maximize freedom and pleasure.

But if a person is to pursue his goals in life, then pain is an inevitable part of the journey.

‘The worst sickness of men has originated in the way they have combated their sicknesses. What seemed to be a cure has in the long run produced something worse than what it was supposed to overcome. The means which worked immediately, anaesthetizing and intoxicating, the so-called consolations, were ignorantly supposed to be actual cures. The fact was not noticed…that these instantaneous alleviations often had to be paid for with a general and profound worsening of the complaint.’
This is why he also treated John Stuart Mill’s philosophy of Utilitarianism (where an action is measured to be good or bad using pleasure and pain as criteria) with antipathy.

And surprisingly, this is pretty much the same reason why Nietzsche held Christianity in disregard. He said that the Christian faith holds back people achieving true success and fulfillment because it portrays human weaknesses and inabilities as virtues.


The Accusations

‘To anyone worried about being too timid, the New Testament advises, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the Earth.” 
To anyone worried about not having any friends, the New Testament says, “Blessed are you, when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you.” 
To anyone worried about an exploitative job, the New Testament advises:
Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh…Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.”
And to anyone who worries about not having enough money and who envies those who do, the New Testament has these soothing words to say, “It’s easier for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
So, Nietzsche concludes, instead of willing people into action to overcome their problems, Christianity glorifies their lowly state and makes people timid and complacent.


The Response

Let me begin my response with partially agreeing with Nietzsche. Many schools of Christendom do adopt a fatalistic view of the world where God is actively involved in the most mundane matters, such as helping us pass college and keeping us safe on road trips. And as such, accepting all our failures and shortcomings as the will of God can and does get in the way of positive action.

But in the interest of fairness, this is not representative of Christianity as a whole. And come to think of it, almost all major world religions do have similar issues.

For example, isn't it true that during the Black Death, Muslim countries where utterly devastated simply because they considered the plague to be the will of Allah? And while the Church also held similar notions, it was much more ‘flexible’ with its theology. This is precisely why the Black Death disappeared from European countries one to two centuries earlier than it did from the Near East.  

Or consider the teaching of reincarnation in Hinduism (Punarjanma), where if you commit evil in this life, you will die and be born in the next life either with an affliction, or as an animal.

The question is: on what theological basis will the adherent of such a doctrine reach out and help a human being or animal that is suffering? Isn't the latter paying for his sins (a concept flatly refuted by the Bible-John 9:1-3)?



But in any case, I cannot fully agree with Nietzsche, for he is reading too much into the text. Let’s analyze his New Testament citations one by one. 


The Character of a Christian

On the topic of meekness and timidity, yes, the New Testament teaches Christians to be peaceful and non-violent. However, this doesn't entail that we are to become door-mats. The Bible doesn't discourage employment in armed forces, nor does it forbid physical fighting in self-defense.

For example, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (a German pastor and Christian scholar) didn't tolerate Hitler’s fascism and plotted to assassinate him. Ironically, Nietzsche is often claimed to have inspired Hitler and his Nazi ideology. 

However, Christians are never to instigate violence, especially on religious grounds, and a physical reaction to faith-based mocking and persecution is always seen as a last resort.
For a lengthy discussion on the issue of peace and violence in the Bible, read: What the Bible Really Says About Retaliation

Next is the issue of not having friends. The Bible is not saying that any socially awkward person can justify his loneliness with this verse of the Bible! The complete context is as follows:

11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. (Matthew 5)
Rather giving credence to misanthropists and introverts as Nietzsche supposes, the verse is actually calling Christians to accept public ridicule, social isolation, (and in other passages) and even death on ideological grounds. Is this timidity?

Nietzsche himself believed that his beliefs would not be accepted in his own time but rather centuries later. But he continued publishing, even in the face of limited sales. The public rejection did not deter him.

Moving on, does the Bible condone humiliation under an evil boss? Wrong again.

A close reading of Colossians 3:22-24 shows that Paul compares working for earthly masters with working for Jesus Christ. In simple words: Work is Worship!

The Bible doesn't teach abstinence from worldly wealth. In fact, some of the heroes of faith, such Abraham and Job, were rich men. We are to enjoy all material blessings as long they don’t clash with the teachings of Scripture.

Paul himself worked all his life to support his ministry instead of accepting donations.

What Does the Bible Teach about Suffering?
Not only did Nietzsche misunderstand what he read in the New Testament, but I speculate he overlooked many passages which would have altered his anti-Christian outlook.

Instead of making us timid, the Bible actually encourages us to endorse suffering and difficulties as part of our spiritual lives.

This, the Bible teaches, produces maturity. And this is the very reason why Christianity remains relevant throughout history.

William Tyndale and others like him lived in intense hardships and ultimately gave up their lives. Their mission was to translate the Bible into the vernacular so that everyone could read and understand it for themselves.

 

Paul himself said that suffering was an integral part of his ministry. (Read The Messenger from Satan)

Most importantly, before He was crowned as the Risen Lord and King of Kings, Jesus Christ suffered the most torturous death the ancient world had to offer.   

How is this any different to what Nietzsche believed was the relation between suffering and greatness?


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Thursday, 19 March 2015

Religion vs. Science: History and Myth

So the other day I ran a poll on my Facebook page, asking people to answer the question: Why was Galileo put on trial?

I received a handful of responses, but most of them repeated the same thing, i.e. the Church believed that the earth was flat but Galileo proved that it was a sphere.

But as widespread this idea is, it is not true. The concept of a flat earth was refuted even before Jesus Christ came into the world by a man named Eratosthenes.

The issue that was still left unresolved at the time of Galileo was that it was the sun and not the earth that was at the center of the Solar System.

On a side note, Galileo was not executed by the Church.

Of course you can come back and say ‘OK, so it was not flat earth. It was egocentricity vs. heliocentricity. Big deal. The Church convicted him anyway, proving religion is always against science’

Wrong again!

It was never religion vs. science, but it was, as John Lennox (a leading Christian intellectual) puts it: ‘Religion vs. Religion’.




Why do people forget that Galileo was neither an atheist, nor a Jew? He was a Christian, and not just a nominal one. He actually quoted the Bible and St. Augustine’s commentary on Genesis to back up his scientific theories.

Not to mention, heliocentricity (the sun at the center and the earth and moon orbiting around it) is not original with Galileo. One of the leading proponents of this theory living decades before Galileo was Copernicus, and guess what? He was a few courses away from becoming a Catholic priest.

Of course, Western society has been ‘Christianized’ for a greater part of the last 2 millennia, and so, being a Christian can be a cultural thing as well. 

This is how many people respond to the fact that most scientists today considered pioneers of their fields were Christians.

However, cultural Christians don’t pursue a position in clergy as Copernicus did. Nor do they write commentaries on the books of the Bible as Isaac Newton did.

I'm not saying that it ‘proves’ anything. The history of science owes itself to the creative collaboration of scientists from different religions and nationalities.

My aim in writing this post was to exhibit the kind of misinformation that is passed around and wholeheartedly accepted in popular media (see the video below), and unfortunately in the academia as well. 

Link: https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=292085901000385


Sunday, 15 March 2015

Another Bomb Blast: Another Chance to Rethink Our Purpose

News just in: Twin blasts in the Youhanabad area of Lahore, Punjab. 

So far there have been 2 causalities, which is sad. But we need to remember that Youhanabad is one of the most densely populated areas of Pakistan and is predominantly resided by Christians. Plus, it is Sunday morning, which means thousands of people had been out of their homes. 


Image Courtesy: Christians in Pakistan


The Church that was attacked (St. John's RCC parish) had, according to TV reports, 500 congregation members.

In global news, Pakistan is playing Ireland in the 2015 Cricket World Cup. The last time these teams collided in 2007, the coach of the Pakistani Cricket team was found dead in his hotel room under mysterious circumstances. And now this. 

The funny thing was that even as the new channels are covering the horrible event, they are also updating people on the match scores! 

I say 'funny' in a sad way. When the society descends into madness, you can either lash out in anger, or try to maintain a sense of normalcy by having a sense of humor.

But while the Pakistani media is caught between the juxtaposition of commercialism and ethical reporting, the Church has its own contradictions to take care of.

Here is an exercise for you:


  • Make a list of the most popular TV evangelists and preachers in the world today 
  • Visit Amazon.com or simply visit your favorite Christian bookstore and make a list of the best-selling Christian books of the last decade 
Now see how many of these preachers and authors address the problem of persecution. Do they ever talk about preaching the Gospel to non-Christians in hostile countries like Pakistan, even in the face of the death (which is exactly how Jesus and Apostles did it)?

NO! These people say that our current life is the 'Best Life' and that we need to 'Enjoy' this life in Christ. 



I dare any of these torchbearers of popular Christianity to say that on the face of the families who lost their loved ones today.

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Friday, 6 March 2015

On Technology (or Why Blog?)

One of the first posts on this blog was concerning the importance and relevance for writing in general and blogging in particular in the context of Christian ministry. Read: Why Christians Should be Writers

However, that article had more to do with content creation than publishing it. But while writing is a not an easy job, publishing is equally tough, be it finding a literary agent or designing and optimizing a website. 




I personally prefer writing over publishing and promotion on any given day, but what I believe doesn't matter unless it is reaching my audience. So while we produce a work of art using our God-given capabilities, the proper medium is required so that humanity at large benefits from our creative endeavors.

This reminds me something I read on CopyBlogger:
"The technology exists because we create words worth sharing" 

I will rephrase this to drive my point home:
"The technology exists, because we have a message worth sharing"

Did you Know....?


  • The Codex was developed by the Romans from wooden writing tablets, its gradual replacement of the scroll, the dominant form of book in the ancient world, has been termed the most important advance in the history of the book before the invention of printing.[2] The codex altogether transformed the shape of the book itself and offered a form that lasted for centuries.[3] The spread of the codex is often associated with the rise of Christianity, which adopted the format for use with the Bible early on. (Source)

  • The Bible was the first book ever to be printed. Before Gutenberg's invention, the price of one book would be around $10,000 and it took 6 months for a scribe to produce it.  


  • Astronauts on the Apollo 8 (the second human spaceflight mission to the Moon) sent a video message on the Christmas Eve of 1968 while still in orbit. The contents of the video? The first 11 verses of Genesis. 

Do you see a trend here? 

Throughout history, Christians have either introduced new technologies or at least have been the first ones to use it. So much for the science vs. religion nonsense.

But the lesson here is that as boring and tedious as it may be, it is beneficial for believers today to get acquainted with modern communication technology. 

I am not expert in all things Web, but I think I am doing fine :) I am also impressed by some of the profound ways in which Christian media has been and still is operating around the world. 

Trust me, you can achieve a lot for Christ with a decent internet connection and a basic Facebook account.

So whether you Tweet or blog, whatever you do, do all for the glory of God!



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Sunday, 1 March 2015

Obsession With Conversion Part 2

As promised, this is my follow-up post on Wednesday's article on the exaggerations and deceptions that go around in Islamic Daw'ah (Read here: Part 1)

Today I will use the same logic for 
Christian evangelism, the kind of missionary activity that goes against Jesus's clear commands that he is not looking for quantity in his Church (maybe because His income doesn't depend on it).

Recall the parable of the Lost Sheep: There will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent

One.




Anyway, the background material for this post was essentially laid out for me, and if you love to hear 'testimonies' of former Muslims who have converted to Christianity, you might have come across the the personalities that will be discussed in the following paragraphs.

As with the last post, I apologize for causing any offence. Such is not my intention. In fact, I am writing this article with a heavy heart, but a heart burdened by truth nonetheless. 

Great Exaggerations

Our first example is Ergun Caner. Ergun, along with his brother Emir, have received widespread acclaim in evangelical circles. While teaching at prestigious Christian institutes in the U.S. Ergun and his brother have become famous for their 'insider's approach to Islam' (or the Unveiling Islam as they like to call it) since they happen to be former Muslims.

The problem is not that Ergun Caner claims to be a former Muslim. Muslims converting to Christianity is not something unusual. Even the Islamic Clergy admits it. 





The problem is the Ergun Caner claims to have been a former radical Muslim and a son of a deeply religious man. However, there is little in line of actual evidence suggesting such a biography. However, the entire affair becomes humorous (read ridiculous) when Ergun starts speaking 'Arabic' during his talks on Islam. What he speaks is clearly jibberish, which the American audience accepts at face value.

The following is a link to Alpha and Omega Ministries official website. Here, Dr. James White has performed a dissection on Ergun Caner's so-called testimony, and you will be able to find videos where you can see he is making up Arabic words as he goes along. 





The Ergun Caner Affair – One Assembly of the Evidence

Speaking of radical Muslims, our next candidate also claims to be a former 'terrorist' who now proclaims the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Earlier I talked about a template of Muslim conversion stories. Well, when it comes to Christian conversions to Islam, a former radical or terrorist is a guaranteed hit.

I am talking of course about Walid Shoebat. Again, we cannot say that he was never a Muslim, but the way he describes his exploits as a Palestinian terrorist lack any substantiation, even from relatives. Plus, the financial status of his non-profits are also suspicious. 


Here is a link from CNN.com which shed some light on how Walid Shoebat uses his story and 'expertise' on Islam to cash in dollars as a security consultant.


Finally we have this guy who name I don't couldn't catch, but in this video, he claims to be a former Imam in a mosque. 



After that he goes on to talk about what the Qur'an says about Jesus Christ, which is grossly exaggerated if not outright deceptive
Just cross check the verses he quotes on Mary and show me where they talk about her perpetual virginity or assumption to heaven. Catholic theology in the Holy Qur'an?

Also, the Qur'an never says that Jesus will return. This comes to us from the Hadith. So the guy clearly hasn't prepared his stuff well.

I actually confronted the uploaders of this video on Facebook, only to be called a Muslim posing as a Christian by a certain lady! Just goes to show how much people are obsessed with conversions that they are willing to overlook the truth.

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