Celebrating Easter? Which Contradicting Biblical Account of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection Are You Going to Pick?


Author: C J Wereleman

Although pre-Christian religions are replete with the stories of dying and rising gods, the Easter tradition is founded in the Bible’s New Testament. Unfortunately for devotees of the Christian faith, the New Testament is replete with irreconcilable discrepancies.

The question is, which contradicting biblical account of Jesus’ death and resurrection are you celebrating this Easter?

Of the nearly 600 irreconcilable discrepancies and contradictions found in the Bible, a majority are found in the New Testament. This is understandable given the books of the New Testament were written no less than 50-100 years after the purported death of Easter’s central character, Jesus. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Paul hadn’t even met Jesus, and they hadn’t met the people who had allegedly met Jesus. In other words, the New Testament contains not a single eyewitness testimony, much less even a secondhand account, nor is any account corroborated outside of the Bible.

Without going too far down the theological pathway, Mark, whoever he was, was the first to write a biography of Jesus, some 50 years after the crucifixion. Both Matthew and Luke, whoever they were, copied from Mark’s written account some 20 to 30 years later, each adding their own theological motives with the help of respective external sources, while John wrote his gospel nearly a full half-century after Mark.

“The New Testament is a work of crude carpentry, hammered together long after its purported events and full of attempts to make things come out right,” writes the late Christopher Hitchens.

Without a doubt, the Easter narrative of the New Testament highlights these contradictions better than any other plot line found in the Bible. A cartoon found at russellsteapot.com demonstrates the theological conundrum:

Priest: “Thanks everyone for participating in this year’s Easter Pageant. All right, kids, we need to rehearse the part where it’s Easter morning and the first visitors arrive at Jesus’ tomb. Now who’s in this scene?”

Child 1: “I am! Matthew 28:2-5 says an angel came down from heaven to greet them.”

Child 2: “No, it wasn’t an angel! It was a ‘Young man,’ Just look at Mark 16:5!”

Child 3: “Hello! Luke 24:4 says very clearly it was ‘Two men.’”

Child 4: “Well, according to John 20:1-2, nobody was there.”

Priest: “Children, the contradictions don’t matter! What matters is that we unquestioningly accept the magic of the resurrection even within the face of such glaring contradictions within the story.”

Child 4: “Father, that was the most wonderfully concise summary of Christianity I have ever heard.”

Priest:“Thank you, child. It is blind submission to authority that got me where I am today

The gospels are so at odds with each other they don’t even agree on one of the critical tenets of the Christian faith i.e. the meaning of Jesus’ death.

On the day of Jesus’ crucifixion, Mark presents Jesus as an utterly dejected figure, who having suffered so much, believes God has forsaken him in his darkest hour. In the events leading to his crucifixion, he is betrayed by his friend Judas; denied three times by one of his nearest and dearest, Peter; berated by the Jewish priests; and then condemned by Pilate. He is kicked, whipped and mocked by the Roman soldiers; taunted by criminals on the cross; and during this whole ordeal he utters not a single word. As the shadow of death descends upon him he cries, “Father why have you forsaken me?”

Bart Ehrman, a New Testament scholar and Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, makes the following observation of Mark’s gospel, “Jesus dies in agony unsure of the reason he must die.”

In Luke’s portrayal, however, the gulf of ideology between himself and Mark couldn’t be greater. Luke has Jesus being led away for crucifixion, but in his account Jesus is not mocked or beaten by the Roman guards. Instead, Jesus walks confidently toward the killing field, reassured by the purpose of his death, as demonstrated by the manner he speaks to the women he sees weeping for him:

“Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.” (Luke 23:28 NIV)

As he is nailed to the cross, instead of denouncing his god, like he had in Mark, Jesus says,

“Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34 NIV)

As his inevitable death approaches, Jesus does not feel forsaken but welcomes the next step of the journey; “Into your arms I commit my spirit.” In Luke, Jesus even has a friendly dialogue with his fellow condemned, and reassures them that:

“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43 NIV)

“In Luke, Jesus is completely calm and in control of the situation; he know what is about to occur, and he knows it will happen afterward: he will wake up in God’s paradise, and this criminal will be there with him,” writes Ehrman.

It gets worse. The respective gospels even contradict their own writings. Mark gives the following account of the Last Supper:

“Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again” (Mark 8:31)

The big question here is why would Jesus think God had forsaken him if he knew he had to suffer in such a manner in order to fulfill the purpose he was sent to fulfill? Of all the events that account for the Easter narrative, the four Gospels agree on only two points:

  1. That on the third day after Jesus’ crucifixion and burial, Jesus’ tomb is found empty.

  2. Mary Magdalene is one of those who discover the empty tomb.

On just about every other component of the Easter narrative, the Gospels disagree as to what transpired, and often irreconcilably so. On Jesus’ ascension, not only do the gospels disagree who Jesus’ spirit spoke to first, but also the location.

Mark: Jesus ascends while he and his disciples are seated at a dinner table in Jerusalem. (14-19)

Matthew: Doesn’t mention the ascension at all.

Luke: Jesus ascends after dinner in Bethany, on the same day as the resurrection. (24:50-51)

John: Doesn’t mention the ascension.

These contradictions must trouble those with even the deepest sense of faith. Notwithstanding the fact that Matthew alone writes that zombies roamed the streets of Jerusalem at the moment of Jesus’ death (Matthew 27:51). Suddenly, the Easter Bunny seems a little more plausible. Happy Easter.

CJ Werleman is the author of “Crucifying America,” and “God Hates You. Hate Him Back.”

Emphasis Mine

See: http://www.alternet.org/belief/bible-one-big-mess-contradictions-about-easter?akid=11733.123424.BSMX1D&rd=1&src=newsletter983505&t=5

“Zealot:” The Real Jesus

Source: Salon, via Alternet

Author: Laura Miller

Very little is known about the historical Jesus, as opposed to the Jesus of myth who appears in the New Testament. He is mentioned by the 1st-century historian Flavius Josephus in reference to his brother, James, who led Jesus’ followers after his death. Two second-century Roman historians, Tacitus and Pliny, also refer to Jesus’ arrest and execution in discussing the movement he founded. Other than that, we have to rely on biblical writings, particularly the gospels — the earliest of which (Mark) was written down almost 40 years after Jesus’ death. None of the gospels were written by eyewitnesses to the events described; they’re based on oral and perhaps some written traditions. Much of contemporary biblical scholarship involves parsing and triangulating the various accounts to surmise which bits are the oldest and most likely to represent some real event or statement by Jesus himself.

This, of course, hasn’t stopped anyone from trying to reconstruct a historical account of Jesus’ life, however speculative it must necessarily be. The latest to try is Reza Aslan, a professor of creative writing with a background in religious studies, which seems like just about the right configuration of skills. Aslan is best known for “No god but God: The Origins, Evolution and Future of Islam” and his appearances on “The Daily Show,” but his literary talent is as essential to the effect of “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth” as are his scholarly and journalistic chops. This book, he explains in an author’s note, is the result of “two decades of rigorous academic research into the origins of Christianity.” It’s also a vivid, persuasive portrait of the world and societies in which Jesus lived and the role he most likely played in both.

Any account of the historical Jesus has to be more argument than fact, but some arguments are sounder than others. Aslan wants to “purge” the scriptural accounts of “their literary and theological flourishes and forge a far more accurate picture of the Jesus of history.” The picture he uncovers is very different from the now-common view of an unworldly pacifist preaching a creed of universal love and forgiveness. Instead, Aslan’s Jesus is a provincial peasant turned roving preacher and insurrectionist, a “revolutionary Jewish nationalist” calling for the expulsion of Roman occupiers and the overthrow of a wealthy and corrupt Jewish priestly caste. Furthermore, once this overthrow was achieved, Jesus probably expected to become king.

The most fascinating aspect of “Zealot” is its portrait of the political and social climate of Jesus’ day, 70 years or so after the conquest of Judea by Rome, an event that ended a century of Jewish self-rule. The Romans replaced the last in a series of Jewish client-kings with a Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, when Jesus was in his 20s, but even Pilate ruled by working closely with the aristocratic priestly families that controlled the Temple in Jerusalem and thereby all of Jewish politics. This elite reaped great wealth from the sacrifices the faithful were required to offer in the Temple, as well as taxes and tributes. In the provinces, noble families used the tax and loan systems to seize and consolidate the lands of subsistence farmers. They also began to adopt the customs of the pagan occupiers.

The dispossessed migrated to cities in search of work or roamed the countryside causing trouble. Some of them, called “bandits” by the Romans, robbed the wealthy (who were often seen as impious) and rallied the poor and discontented. They invariably offered religious justifications for their activities; many claimed to be the messiah, the prophesied figure who would eject the foreigners, raise up the oppressed, punish the venal rich and restore the Jews to supremacy in their promised land. Although Jesus himself wasn’t such a “bandit,” he definitely fit the well-known type of apocalyptic Jewish holy man, so commonplace in the countryside that the Greek philosopher Celsus wrote a parody version, a wild-eyed character running around shouting, “I am God, or the servant of God, or a divine spirit. But I am coming, for the world is already in the throes of destruction. And you will soon see me coming with the power of heaven.”

The legitimacy of all of these figures was founded on zeal, which Aslan characterizes as “a strict adherence to the Torah and the Law, a refusal to serve any foreign master — to serve any human master at all — and an uncompromising devotion to the sovereignty of God,” just like “the prophets and heroes of old.” Although the Zealot Party would not exist for a few more decades, most insurrectionists of the time — including Jesus — could be rightly called zealots. They revered the Torah and honored its many rules and regulations. The most fanatical of such groups, such as the Sicarii, practiced a form of terrorism, attacking members of the Jewish ruling class, even assassinating the high priest within the precincts of the Temple itself, “shouting their slogan ‘No lord but God!’”

Aslan points out that crucifixion was a punishment the Romans reserved for political criminals, and that the men hung on crosses next to Jesus’ are described with a word often mistranslated as “thieves” but that in fact indicates “rebel-bandit.” The placard “King of the Jews” hung on Jesus’ cross was meant not to mock his ambitions but to name his offense; using that title or claiming to be the messiah amounted to a treasonous declaration against the authority of Rome and the Temple.

Aslan also insists that the parable of the Good Samaritan is less concerned with the Samaritan’s compassion than it is with the “baseness of the two priests” who passed by the injured man in the road before the Samaritan stopped to help him. It was a class critique as much as an exhortation to help one’s neighbors. He also dismisses the gospels’ depiction of Jesus’ trial, with its reluctant magistrate, as “absurd to the point of comedy,” given that the historical Pilate never showed anything but contempt for the Jews and sentenced hundreds of politically troublesome people to the cross without a second thought.

How was Jesus, this “zealous Galilean peasant and Jewish nationalist who donned the mantle of the messiah and launched a foolhardy rebellion against the corrupt Temple priesthood and the vicious Roman occupation,” transformed into the incarnation of God, a being who sacrificed his life to mystically redeem the souls of all mankind? This new Jesus, Aslan asserts, was largely the invention of Paul, who never met the man he would celebrate as his savior (though he claimed to speak often with the “risen Christ”), and Paul’s theological heirs.

Paul clashed with James, John and Peter, who led the core of Jesus’ following after his death. Theirs was a deeply Jewish community centered in Jerusalem, where it awaited its founder’s return and the restoration of God’s kingdom on earth. Paul instead opted to convert and minister to gentiles as well as Jews in Rome and beyond. In the year 70, the ferment in Palestine finally erupted in a full-fledged revolt and then Roman reprisals. Ultimately, the Temple, Jerusalem and the holy city’s occupants were destroyed, and with these the Jewish core of Jesus’ followers. By default, it was Paul’s version of Jesus’ teachings — Christianity — that survived, splintering off from Judaism and incorporating many ideas from Hellenistic philosophy.

This is a credible account, and one that raises a provocative question: Just how much of Christianity has anything to do with Jesus? In many respects, Paul seems to have been the more visionary leader. Somewhat bafflingly, Aslan remarks in his author’s note that he finds Jesus the man “every bit as compelling, charismatic and praiseworthy as Jesus the Christ” — by which he means the divine figure who presides over Christian theology. I suppose that “the man” is more human and accessible, but he is also not especially exceptional, original or innovative.

Although Aslan never explicitly states as much, the parallels to today — to certain deeply religious and nationalist Muslims who zealously strive to cast out foreign occupiers and corrupt clerics — are hard to ignore, especially when Aslan describes Sicarii shouting, “No lord but God!” Perhaps “Zealot” is partly intended to make today’s zealots seem less alien and scary, or perhaps it’s meant to suggest that all religions go through a process of maturation that simply takes time. If so, I’m not sure it works. The historical Jesus’ call for justice is stirring, but the xenophobic and theocratic society he allegedly advocated is not — in fact, it sounds a lot like what the worst of (so-called) Christians seek today. I may not be a Christian myself, but even I can see that Jesus the Christ stands for something better than that.

Laura Miller is a senior writer for Salon. She is the author of “The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia” and has a Web site,magiciansbook.com.

Emphasis Mine



Conservatives Want America to be a “Christian Nation” — Here’s What That Would Actually Look Like

From AlterNet, by Adam Lee

In a campaign speech in September, Rick Perry hit upon some familiar Republican themes. According to a Bloomberg Businessweek article:

Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry, in an appeal to evangelical voters, said “Christian values” and not “a bunch of Washington politicians” should be the touchstone guiding how Americans conduct their lives. …

“America is going to be guided by some set of values,” Perry told a crowd of 13,000 students and faculty members yesterday at a sports arena on the school’s campus. “The question is going to be, ‘Whose values?'” He said it should be “those Christian values that this country was based upon.”

It’s worth calling attention to Perry’s obnoxious rhetorical ploy of using “Christian values” to refer only to his own very specific, right-wing set of beliefs — preemptive war, gay-bashing, tax cuts for the rich, creationism in schools, deregulating corporations, dismantling the social safety net, the standard Republican package –– as if he owned or had the right to define all of Christianity. In reality, there’s such a huge diversity of opinion among self-professed Christians past and present that the term “Christian values” could mean almost anything.

Christians have been communists and socialists (including Francis Bellamy, the author of the Pledge of Allegiance); Christians have supported empire and dictatorship (including Mussolini, who made Catholicism the official state religion of fascist Italy). Christians have advocated positions across the political spectrum, from environmental preservation to environmental destruction, from pacifism to just war to open advocacy of genocide, from civil rights tosegregation and slavery.

This broad range of opinion comes about because the Bible never mentions many of these issues, and addresses others in only vague or contradictory passages scattered throughout its individual books. This gives individual Christians wide latitude to find support in the text for virtually any political position you’d care to name.

However, there’s one area where there’s much less room for debate, and that’s the question of political organization. The Bible sets out a very clear picture of what its authors believed the ideal state would look like. Coincidentally, this is the same subject Rick Perry was speaking to: “those Christian values that this country was based upon.” We can compare this statement to the dictates of the Bible to see what it would mean to have a government based on “Christian values.” Then we’ll be in a better position to decide whether America has such a government.

According to the Old Testament of the Bible, after escaping Egypt and reaching the promised land, the twelve tribes of Israel were united into a single country under David and Solomon. After Solomon’s death, there was a rebellion, and the country split into two separate kingdoms, Israel and Judah, which lasted until the Assyrian empire destroyed Israel and carried its people off into exile. Both these kingdoms survived for several hundred years, and therefore there’s more than enough written history to tell what the Bible’s authors thought of as a good state or a bad state.

But right away, there’s a problem. The Bible never even mentions democracy — that concept was completely unknown to its authors. The system of government it enshrines is divine-right monarchy — and not just monarchy, but kingship. Under normal circumstances, the Bible is very clear that the throne passes only from father to son. (The sole exception was Athaliah, a queen of Judah who came to power in a bloody coup and whose reign lasted only six years.)

Even more to the point, the Bible’s ideal government is unequivocally a theocracy: a country where the church and the state are one, where there’s an official religion which all citizens are required to profess, and where law is made by the priests. There was no religious freedom in the ancient Israelite kingdoms: all people were required to worship the same god in the same officially approved ways, on pain of death. For instance, when Moses comes down from Mt. Sinai and finds the Israelites worshipping a golden calf, his immediate response is to order the butchering of everyone who participated in idolatry (Exodus 32:27). Many of Israel’s subsequent kings do likewise. The Bible goes so far as to say that, if pagan worshippers are discovered in any city, the entire city should be burned down and everyone who lives there should be killed (Deuteronomy 13:12-16).

The Bible also puts a high value on racial purity. The Israelites were the chosen people of God, and were instructed to keep themselves separate. Time and again, they were sternly warned against marrying people of another race, tribe or ethnicity. For instance, the Old Testament pronounces a perpetual curse on the neighboring Ammonite and Moabite tribes, saying that any person descended from either one, even down to the tenth generation, “shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 23:3). In one of the Old Testament’s most gruesome stories, a priest named Phinehas finds an Israelite man having sex with a Midianite woman, and impales them both on the same spear (Numbers 25:6-8). For doing this, he’s praised as a hero of faith, and God rewards him with “the covenant of an everlasting priesthood.” When the Israelites invade and conquer neighboring lands, God instructs them to massacre all the captives, including women, so that they’re not tempted to intermarry with them (Deuteronomy 7:2).

By the time of the New Testament, much of this had changed. Christians weren’t all of one ethnicity, nor did they have their own country. They were scattered throughout the powerful, militaristic Roman Empire, governed by absolute rulers who were brutally intolerant of dissent. In light of this, it’s little surprise that the New Testament teaches the virtue of submission to the authorities. It states unequivocally that earthly rulers, even when they act unjustly, are ordained to their position by God and that Christian believers should obey them without question — in fact, it states that those who resist are in peril of eternal damnation (Romans 13:1-2).

All these ideas, so clearly advocated in the Bible, are utterly contrary to what this nation stands for. The idea of divine-right kingship is what our founders successfully rebelled against in bringing forth this country. America is a democracy where the people choose their leaders, a constitutional republic where the powers of those leaders are strictly defined and limited by law. America is a multicultural, multiethnic nation founded on the idea of welcoming immigrants, the homeless and tempest-tossed of every land. Submission to the established authorities, of course, isn’t an American value: Americans have a long and colorful history of debate, protest, and civil disobedience, and the right to criticize our leaders is sanctified in the Constitution. And most of all, America is a secular nation with a separation of church and state. We have no official faith, no national church as many European countries still do.

But America’s Constitution is more than just a secular document; it’s literally godless. It doesn’t claim that the ideas it contains were the product of divine revelation. It states that governing power comes from the will of the people, not the commands of a deity. It doesn’t assert that God has specially blessed this nation or shown it special favor — in fact, it never mentions God at all. And it mentions religion in only two places, both of them negative mentions: in Article VI, which forbids any religious test for public office, and in the First Amendment, which forbids Congress from passing any law respecting an establishment of religion.

If America’s founders had meant to establish a Christian nation, this is where they would have said so. But they said no such thing. And this leads into a historical fact that the religious right would dearly love to forget: the godlessness of the Constitution was a point of major controversy in the debate over ratification. When it was drafted, the fact that it made no explicit mention of God or Christianity wasn’t a minor oversight. It was a major, deliberate omission that was obvious to all. Religious language was omnipresent in other legal documents and charters of the day, including the ones that inspired the Constitution in the first place.

For example, the Constitution’s precursor, the Articles of Confederation,explicitly gives God the credit for making the state legislatures agree to it: “…it hath pleased the Great Governor of the World to incline the hearts of the legislatures we respectively represent in Congress, to approve of, and to authorize us to ratify the said articles of confederation and perpetual union.”

Going back further, the 1620 Mayflower Compact, made by the Pilgrims just before their landing, begins, “In the name of God, amen” and describes the purpose of their voyage as “for the glory of God and advancements of the Christian faith.”

Another foundational legal document, the 1689 English Bill of Rights, was based on the political thinking of John Locke and may have been part of the inspiration for our own Bill of Rights. This document calls the U.K. “this Protestant kingdom,” states that “it hath pleased Almighty God to make [King William III] the glorious instrument of delivering this kingdom from popery” and declares that no Catholic will ever be allowed to hold the throne of the U.K.

And lastly, there’s the document at the root of the Western legal system, theMagna Carta. Like the others, it’s woven throughout with religious language: its preamble begins “Know that before God…” and states that it was created “to the honor of God” and “the exaltation of the holy church.”

In the light of these documents, it’s easy to see just how unique, unusual, even unprecedented the Constitution is. The United States of America was the first modern republic that was created on the foundation of reason, without seeking blessings from a god, without imploring divine assistance or invoking divine favor. And, as I said, this fact was not overlooked when the Constitution was being debated. Very much to the contrary, the religious right of the founding generation angrily attacked it, warning that ratifying this godless document as-is would spell doom for the nation.

For instance, at the Constitutional Convention, the delegate William Williams proposed that the Constitution’s preamble be modified to read: “We the people of the United States in a firm belief of the being and perfection of the one living and true God, the creator and supreme Governor of the World, in His universal providence and the authority of His laws… do ordain, etc”. A failed Virginia initiative attempted to change the wording of Article VI to say that “no otherreligious test shall ever be required than a belief in the one only true God, who is the rewarder of the good, and the punisher of the evil”. The Maryland delegate Luther Martin observed “there were some members so unfashionable as to think that… it would be at least decent to hold out some distinction between the professors of Christianity and downright infidelity or paganism.”

However, the Constitution’s defenders held firm, and all the attempts to Christianize it failed. And the religious right of the day bitterly lamented that failure. One anonymous anti-federalist wrote in a Boston newspaper that America was inviting the curse of 1 Samuel 15:23 – “Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee.” In 1789, a group of Presbyterian elders wrote to George Washington to complain that the Constitution contained no reference to “the only true God and Jesus Christ, who he hath sent.” In 1811, Rev. Samuel Austin claimed that the Constitution’s “one capital defect” was that it was “entirely disconnected from Christianity.” In 1812, Rev. Timothy Dwight, grandson of the infamous preacher Jonathan Edwards, lamented that America had “offended Providence” by forming a Constitution “without any acknowledgement of God; without any recognition of His mercies to us, as a people, of His government, or even of His existence.”

What the religious right failed to achieve at the Constitutional Convention, they kept trying to do in the following decades. The National Reform Association, founded in 1863 by a group of clergy, proposed a constitutional amendment which would have changed the preamble to read, “We, the people of the United States, humbly acknowledging Almighty God as the source of all authority and power in civil government, the Lord Jesus Christ as the Ruler among the nations, His revealed will as the supreme law of the land, in order to constitute a Christian government… do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” Throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s, they repeatedly brought this proposal before presidents and congresses, getting turned down each time. As recently as 1954, the National Association of Evangelicals was still trying to amend the Constitution with language such as, “This nation divinely recognizes the authority and law of Jesus Christ, Savior and Ruler of Nations, through whom are bestowed the blessings of Almighty God.”

Only within the last 50 or 60 years, now that they’ve finally accepted they have no realistic hope of changing it, has the religious right flip-flopped and started claiming that the Constitution meant to establish a Christian nation all along. This staggeringly dishonest, wholesale rewriting of history has become their stock in trade, to the point of having full-time propagandists who obscure historical fact and promote the Christian-nation myth. These falsehoods filter into the political mainstream, until we have absurdities like Rick Perry claiming that the United States, a secular and democratic republic, was based on the legal code of an ancient theocratic monarchy. We, as liberals and progressives, should know better than to accept this falsehood. We have every reason to speak out and uphold America’s proud history as a secular republic founded on reason and governed by the democratic will.

Emphasis Mine


“Religion Under Examination”

A good sized crowd of about 90 people filled a ballroom at the Crown Plaza South in Cleveland on Saturday 25 Sept 2010 to participate in “Religion Under Examination” – the Center For Inquiry Northeast Ohio’s biannual Conference.
After registration and introductions, the program compromised presentations from John Shook, Ibn Warraq, and, after a lunch break, Robert Price.  A round table Q/A discussion then followed to draw the conference to a close.
“Why Be Skeptical Toward Religion?” was the title of the talk by John Shook, PhD.  He is director of education at the Center for Inquiry and heads the CFI Institute, and is a research associate in philosophy at the University of Buffalo.  He has authored and edited more than a dozen books (including The God Debates , available in bookstores October 1st). Dr. Shook is a co-editor of three philosophy journals, and travels for lectures and debates across the United States and around the world.
How might we have a reasonable, rational discussion with a dogmatic Christian, he asks?  One can use simple, common sense arguments – we don’t need a PhD.
Common notions we might challenge are: why compartmentalize religious beliefs, and why demand exception for religion?   We must reject: mystery; contradiction; circular reasoning; mysterious causes;  arbitrary justifications; and special exceptions.  Explanations must reduce mysteries, and involve cause & effect.
He proposed that scientific hypotheses can be far more counter-intuitive than religious ones; that  religion relies on reasoning failures; and that religion can deliver net benefits – otherwise it would never have survived Evolution, which REQUIRES net benefits.
All current religions are “Intelligently designed religions”, and our primary task is to prove humanism can provide answers, and replace religion.
The next speaker was Ibm Warraq ,  an Islamic scholar and leader in Koranic criticism, who is a Center for Inquiry senior fellow. He is the author of several books on Islam and the Koran, including Why I Am Not a Muslim; The Origins of the Koran ; What the Koran Really Says ; and Defending the West: A Critique of Edward Said’s Orientalism . His work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal and The Guardian, and he has addressed governing bodies throughout the world, including the United Nations Office at Geneva and the Dutch Parliament at The Hague.
Mr. Warraq -a serious scholar –  of Islam, spoke on  “The Current State of Islamic Studies”, and observed that Middle East Scholar Bernard Lewis observes that our current environment of Post Modernity, Political Correctness, multi culturalism, is dangerous because it makes any serious study of Islam difficult”.  Mr. Warraq gave us detailed examples of language problems with Aramaic, and observed that much of what is in the Koran could have not been in a document published in the seventh century.  As an example, one meaning of the “70 Virgins” would be 70 Raisins.  He proposed that not all of the Koran could have originated in the seventh century.
Robert Price spoke on  “Now Accepting Implications: Thorough-Going Skepticism as the Inevitable Result of Biblical Criticism”.  He
is professor of theology and scriptural studies at Johnnie Coleman Theological Seminary, host of the Point of Inquiry podcast, founder and fellow of The Jesus Seminar and The Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion, research fellow at the CFI Institute, and host of The Bible Geek webcasts. His books include Beyond Born Again The Reason Driven Life The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man and Inerrant the Wind.

His definition of ‘Apologetics’ is: start with answers, then read scripture – it is a defense of faith.  In interpreting scripture, he suggests using an analogy with present day experience as a truth filter.  E.G.: do we see people arise from the dead, convert water into wine, etc?  He suggested using form criticism to the New Testament  legends (i.e., they follow a similar form).  Dr. Price concluded by observing that those writings could not date from the early first century CE – because of the many anachronisms  – and that the chances of the gospels being accurate are slim.
The roundtable discussion was entertaining and informative, and it was an enlightening and informative day: we learned why we should be skeptical of any religion in general, and of Islam and Christianity in particular.