Monday, March 7, 2011

Predictable and Transparent Christians - an invaluable resource

An atheist facebook friend suggested that I read The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity by Hyam MacCoby, a Talmudic scholar. I went to and began to peruse some of the many reader reviews both good and bad.

I am well aware that amazon reader reviews are no guarantee of a book’s value. But when it comes to books that are critical of religion I have developed an almost fool proof way of using reviews to guide my purchasing decision.

The following is an excerpt from a 1 star review of MacCoby’s book penned by a Christian. I found it invaluable.

It would be easier to believe the "scholarship" of a book like this were it not for the blatant bias of the author."

"It uses similar logic to those who find by random out of context selection of verses the Bible a champion of suicide. [i.e.] 1) Judas hanged himself. 2) Go thou and do likewise. 3) what thou doest, do quickly. All [are] verses found in the Bible, but hardly the message really found there."

"You would be better off reading Evidence That Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell, a skeptic who became convinced, rather than a proponent of a point of view slanting "evidence" to fit his viewpoint. Don't waste your money.”

Read that last sentence again. Note the assumption made by this Christian reviewer - a "skeptic who became convinced (became a believer)" is by definition less likely to "slant evidence" to fit his viewpoint and agenda than someone who doesn't hold Christian belief. What’s the basis for that inference? By my experience there is none. It's simply the Christian reviewer’s prejudice toward non-Christians.
It’s the hallmark of desperate Christian apologists to extol the virtues of those "skeptics who became believers," as though they hold a special ability to convince thinking people to abandon their intellect and reason and fall dumbly into mindless superstition. They roll out the Lee Strobels, C.S. Lewis' and McDowells and put them on pedestals because their self-professed (and often phony) conversion to religiosity justifies and strengthens their own beliefs. It seems avid religionists, conspiracy theorists and the deluded love company and what better company to be in than those who "once were lost and now are found” as the song goes.

Anyway ... as far as the "message(s)" found in the Bible - its message has been interpreted in hundreds of different ways. I don’t think it’s a surprise to anyone when I say that my multiple readings of the Bible reinforced my non-belief . Its message disgusted me in its irrationality, contradictions, absurdly illogical admonishments, myth presented as scientific "fact," obsession with death, and its grotesque examples of god endorsed baseness, threat, intolerance and violence. The fact that the Christian reviewer drew an entirely different message from the Bible is precisely the point of MacCoby’s work. But that is totally lost on him.

There are a number of 1 star and 5 star reviews for this book that were well reasoned. So well reasoned that I was on the fence as to whether or not I would buy this work. But this reviewer’s almost palatable anger and his warning away predicated on his own prejudice and personal agenda has convinced me to make the purchase and assess it for myself. For that, I thank him.

Bottom line: when considering a book critical of their religion let the angry Christian reviewer guide your purchase. They rarely steer you right.


longhorn believer said...

The McDowell book would probably be better titled "A Verdict that Demands Evidence" because that's the way most xians think the scientific method is supposed to work. They start with the verdict that God created everything and then come up with creationism. As atheists are human, I suppose we do have our own biases. The biggest difference is we don't go around trying to convert people to our particular bias. And as biased as this may seem, I think we do a better job of looking at the evidence BEFORE jumping to conclusions.

By the way, love the picture with this post! Best church lady ever! And give us your review of the book when you're done

aspen-bh said...

CS Lewis was a bloody liar. He was this puritan christian during his entire life. For a very brief period of time he had this quarrel with his father and punished him proclaiming he would “give up God and live an atheist lifestyle”. I.e., he would year drink alcohol, gamble, have wild sex with women and ignore Sunday church! Eventually he regret this, dropped to his knees before his father and promised to abandon “atheism” and to become a true christian. For CS Lewis, “atheism” was just a synonym to “mad lifestyle”. Idiot!

Sparta Doc said...

MacCoby's book is a GOOD book. I have read it. Search the internet and you find plenty of anti-MacCoby polemics which can only mean he has hit a sensitive nerve. His seeming outrageous conclusions are all backed with what appears to me to be sound scholarship. Amongst his seeming bizarre conclusion are:

1. Jesus was himself a Pharisee
Paul never was one
2. he disciples had no intention whatsoever of founding a new church
3. The Ebionites were the continuation of Jesus followers - they did not believe Jesus was divine.
4. Paul invented Christianity out of liberal portions of Judaism, Gnosticism, and pagan mystery religions. You could consider him to the Ron L. Hubbard of the first century, eh! (He invented Dianetics)
5. It was Paul who "discovered" Jesus' divinity