• RNA Conference: Strangest Thing Heard From a Christian

    9.12.11_Russell_Moore1The Religion Newswriters Association Conference wowed me pretty early on. As I walked around the main room and started to get my breakfast, someone at the podium started to speak. I didn’t hear any kind of introduction, but the guy seemed interesting enough. He was clearly an evangelical and pretty early along said some obviously inaccurate things about atheists. But about twenty-five minutes into his talk, Dr. Russell Moore said the strangest thing I have ever heard a Christian say.

    Dr. Moore is the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of The Southern Baptist Convention. Try to say that ten times fast. This group actually sponsored the breakfast so he pretty much had a captive audience of breakfast eating and coffee drinking attendees for his talk. The guy must have really wanted get his message to everyone at the conference because in addition to his captive breakfast talk, everyone at the conference received a free copy of his book, “Onward: Engaging The Culture Without Losing The Gospel.”

    His lecture started off talking about how atheists own the culture and how atheists no longer fear coming out of the closet as atheists. I almost choked on my bagel when I heard him. It was particularly interesting since Sarah Morehead from Recovering From Religion was there. When she tells her coming out story there is rarely a dry eye in the room. While my coming out story wasn’t all that traumatic, many atheists experience all kinds of threats and hatred just for mentioning their lack of belief in deities. The discrimination doesn’t end at coming out either. Many atheists risk the loss of their jobs, family, and friends just because they lack belief in a god. So when this guy says that we own the culture and that we no longer fear coming out as atheists, it just sounds like he has a really bad case of Christian Persecution Complex. But that wasn’t the strangest thing he said that morning. Not by a long shot.

    During the Q&A, one of the reporters noticed that he uses the word “strange” a lot when describing Christianity. She asked him to clarify what he meant by that. He gave a pretty lengthy answer, but this part of the answer really stood out to me. It stood out so much that I took the liberty of transcribing it from the online audio because I really wanted to make sure he said what I recall him saying. Yup, he said it and here it is (emphasis mine):

    “I talk about it in the book, having a conversation with a woman, a liberal talk show host, who said, ‘you know, I just don’t get why you people believe what you believe about sex inside of marriage because I don’t know anybody who believes that.’”

    “And I said, ‘well, I understand that, but you need to know that we believe stranger things than that.’ We believe a previously dead man is going to show up in the sky on a horse. You know, that’s strange and it is seen as strange in the New Testament itself, which is why when Mary tells Joseph she’s pregnant his response is not ‘well it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.’ His response is to assume that she’s cheated on him because he knows how babies are conceived. The message of the Gospel is a sign of contradiction to every human culture and every human institution and I think we need to reclaim that.”

    I think Christians need to reclaim that too. I would love it if Christians took a tip from this guy and admitted that their beliefs are in fact ridiculous. Imagine if a preacher told his or her congregation that they believe “a previously dead man is going to show up in the sky on a horse.” That’s something I tell Christians all the time. Although in fairness, I leave out the “horse” part because that would be a little over the top and I doubt most Christians even believe that. I would be accused of mocking a straw man of Christian faith. But not Dr. Russell Moore — Nope, he went full fundy on this.

    Just a few weeks ago in an e-mail correspondence with WHYY’s Chris Satullo, I had described Christianity as a ridiculous belief system and he was terribly offended by it. In the context of the e-mail, it was more of an aside, but Satullo focused in on it and even labeling anyone using such language as “militant atheists.” Now a prominent Christian is promoting the view that Christianity is a ridiculous belief system.

    I have always said that as an atheist, I support the right of everyone to believe whatever ridiculous belief they want and long as it doesn’t harm others. If Tom Cruise wants to believe an evil galactic overlord is bombarding his body with thetans, that is his right. It’s a pretty ridiculous belief and it harms a lot of people and that is where the law often has to step in, but don’t pretend that Christianity with its virgin birth, blood sacrifice, and zombie savior are any less ridiculous. Dr. Moore may hold a great many insanely strange and ridiculous beliefs, but at least he is sane enough to recognize that fact.

    Category: #RNA2015AtheismChristianityfeaturedNew AtheismReligionThe Media

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    Article by: Staks Rosch

    Staks Rosch is a writer for the Skeptic Ink Network & Huffington Post, and is also a freelance writer for Publishers Weekly. Currently he serves as the head of the Philadelphia Coalition of Reason and is a stay-at-home dad.

    4 comments

    1. Hi, Staks ~

      Great article and fun to read.

      Dr. Russell Moore is actually making a point that was quite popular a while ago — even if his rendition is mere repetition, dull and bland.

      A few years ago, it became fashionable to exclaim with surprise that the New Testament was both “extreme” and “strange.”

      The extreme nature of the language was pointed out.
      You tear out your eye, or cut off your hand. You must hate your wife and children, and even your own life.
      Christians characterize this kind of language as “Semitic hyperbole,” which is apparently a known rhetorical device of the period in which the sayings of Jesus were written.
      http://www.voiceofjesus.org/extremelanguage.html

      In addition, lectures and sermons started to be preached calling attention to the utter strangeness and oddity of the events in the New Testament. Angels appear and talk to people. A star stands still over a single building. A few fish and some scraps of bread feed multitudes. When Christ died, tombs opened and the dead came out to mill around in the streets. The sky went dark for three hours.
      —————-
      The idea behind this kind of teaching — saying that the NT is extreme and strange — is this:
      1) Christians are willing to own — even embrace — these extreme ideas and strange events, no longer apologizing for them or trying to soften them down into metaphors.

      And here is the reason why Christians should trumpet the extreme language and the strange events:
      2) The very unbelievability of the events — their strangeness — is itself a proof that they must be historically true. No fraudster would strain your credulity like that.
      Those who wrote all this must have realized that it would be difficult or impossible to believe them, but they were reluctantly forced by honesty to make accurate records.
      ——————-

      What this new breed of apologists do not seem to know (or do know and are merely deceiving the credulous faithful for not the first time) is that claims of miracles performed by itinerant rabbis were common — even obligatory — in those days.
      No wonder-working rabbi busking the crowd was without his claims of having healed the sick and raised the dead, walked on water, turned water into wine or got wine from a stone or an empty bottle — any number of stage magic tricks.
      Sometimes the dead person (“The daughter of a guy who lives over thataway, you don’t know him . . . “) was RIGHT THERE in front of you, telling you all about how she had been dead and was then raised.

      Anyone who wanted to forge a fake biography of a wonder-working itinerant rabbi just had to include a list of the standard miracles he repeatedly performed.
      In fact, these are mythic and irrational story elements.
      They are standard inclusions in all kinds of “deifications” — including North Korea’s Dear Leader, supposedly born under a double rainbow and a new star on a culturally-cherished mountain.
      http://www.cbsnews.com/media/kim-jong-il-10-weird-facts-propaganda/

      Christians trumpet these extreme and strange stories as “evidence” that the stories must be true because who would make them up? All they do is damage credibility, so the only reason they are included must be because they are true.

      The preachers get away with this false logic because they are banking on the fact that their donors do not know about
      • “Semitic hyperbole” as a literary convention of the time
      • The standard obligatory claims of miracles performed by every itinerant wonder-working rabbi (real ones or imaginary ones like Jesus) ever recorded in that era
      • The mythic and irrational elements associated with making people into gods
      —————
      So what you read was no more than a pallid and lifeless repeat of this idea, an allusion that Dr. Moore didn’t even bother to develop.

      1. Great comment Ann! Thanks for all that information. Personally, I just love that he admitted to the ridiculousness of it all. It makes my job easier. 😉

          1. Hi, Staks ~

            Great article and fun to read.

            Dr. Russell Moore is actually making a point that was quite popular a while ago — even if his rendition is mere repetition, dull and bland.

            A few years ago, it became fashionable to exclaim with surprise that the New Testament was both “extreme” and “strange.”

            The extreme nature of the language was pointed out by all the televangelists.
            You tear out your eye, or cut off your hand. You must hate your wife and children, and even your own life.
            This kind of language is known as “Semitic hyperbole,” which is apparently a known rhetorical device of the period in which the sayings of Jesus were written.
            http://www.voiceofjesus.org/extremelanguage.html

            In addition to pointing out the extreme language of the NT, modern lectures and sermons started to be preached calling attention to the utter strangeness and oddity of the events in the New Testament.
            Angels appear and talk to people. A star stands still over a single building. A few fish and some scraps of bread feed multitudes. When Christ died, the sky went dark for three hours and tombs opened and the dead came out to mill around in the streets.
            —————-
            The idea behind this kind of recent teaching — saying that the NT is both “extreme” and “strange” — is this:
            (1) Christians are taking a stand that they are now willing to own — even embrace — these extreme ideas and strange events, no longer apologizing for them or trying to soften them down into metaphors.
            ————
            But there is another, better reason to gloat over the (previously difficult) “extreme” and “strange” passages in the NT.
            This is the reason why Christians should now trumpet the extreme language and the strange events:
            (2) The very unbelievability of the events — their strangeness — is itself a proof that they must be historically true. No fraudster would strain your credulity like that.
            Those who wrote all this must have realized that it would be difficult or impossible to believe them, but they were reluctantly forced by honesty to make accurate records.
            ——————-

            What this new breed of apologists do not seem to know (or do know and are merely deceiving the credulous faithful for not the first time) is that claims of miracles performed by itinerant rabbis were common — even obligatory — in those days.
            No wonder-working rabbi busking the crowd was without his claims of having healed the sick and raised the dead, walked on water, turned water into wine, got wine from an empty bottle, or bread from a stone — or any number of stage magic tricks.
            Sometimes the dead person (“This is the daughter of a guy who lives over thataway, you don’t know him . . . “) was RIGHT THERE in front of you, telling you all about how she had been dead and was then raised.

            Anyone who wanted to forge a fake biography of a wonder-working itinerant rabbi just had to include a list of the standard miracles he repeatedly performed.
            ——————-
            In addition, some of these are also mythic and irrational story elements.
            They are standard inclusions in all kinds of “deifications” — including North Korea’s Dear Leader, supposedly born under a double rainbow and a new star on a culturally-cherished mountain.
            http://www.cbsnews.com/media/kim-jong-il-10-weird-facts-propaganda/

            Christians trumpet these extreme and strange stories as “evidence” that the stories must be true because who would make them up? All they do is damage credibility, so the only reason they are included must be because they are true.

            Televangelists get away with this false logic because they are banking on the fact that their financial donors do not know about
            • “Semitic hyperbole” as a literary convention of the time
            • The standard obligatory claims of miracles performed by every itinerant wonder-working rabbi (real ones or imaginary ones like Jesus) ever recorded in that era
            • The mythic and irrational elements associated with making people into gods
            —————
            So what you read was no more than a pallid and lifeless repeat of this idea, a listless allusion that Dr. Moore didn’t even bother to develop.

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