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From Atheist Professor to Catholic: An Interview with Dr. Holly Ordway

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Growing up, Holly Ordway was convinced God was little more than superstition, completely unsupported by evidence or reason. She later attained a PhD in literature, traveled the country as a competitive fencer, and became a college English professor, none of which left room for God.

But one day a smart and respected friend surprisingly revealed he was a Christian. That sent Holly on a search for the truth about God, one that weaved through literature, aesthetics, imagination, and history. It culminated in 2012 when she entered the Catholic Church.

Holly recounts her probing journey in a new memoir, Not God's Type: An Atheist Academic Lays Down Her Arms (Ignatius Press, 2014). The book debuted two weeks ago and has already soared up the Amazon charts. When I checked this morning, it was ranked:

  • #1 among all religious biographies and memoirs
  • #15 among all Christian books
  • #30 among all memoirs on Amazon
  • #353 among all books on Amazon

I recently sat down with Holly to discuss her early atheism, the role of imagination in her conversion to Catholicism, and the strongest evidence for Christianity.
 


 
BRANDON VOGT: Whenever non-believers analyze an atheist-to-Catholic conversion story, many quickly assume the convert wasn't really an atheist. Would you have described yourself that way during your early life?

DR. HOLLY ORDWAY: I’ve heard that claim often, and I admit, it puzzles me. Even if I hadn’t been ‘really’ an atheist, what does that have to do with whether I’m correct or not in believing Christianity to be true?

But in any case, certainly I described myself as an atheist by the time I was in my twenties. Sometimes people assume there must have been a traumatic event or a rejection of faith, but there wasn’t. It was a gradual process from being non-religious, to being indifferent, to being actively convinced that atheism was true.

NotGodsTypeI remember a conversation I had when I was about eight years old. A kid who waited at the same bus stop as I did asked me if I believed in God. I thought about it for a moment and said “I don’t know. Maybe God’s real, and maybe not.” The boy said “Oh, you’re an agnostic.” I remembered the conversation not because it seemed important, but rather because I’d learned a new word, and that was always interesting to me as an avid and precocious reader.

My family was ‘culturally Christian’ in a small way: at Christmas, there was a nativity set on display and Christmas carols on the stereo, and my mom at one point reprimanded me for the teen habit of saying “Oh-my-God” as a verbal filler. But there was no Bible or religious books in the house, and we never went to church. As a teenager, I began to be concerned with questions of right and wrong, and felt a longing for meaning and connection, but it didn’t occur to me to explore these issues in religious terms.

In college I absorbed the prevailing idea that religion in general, and Christianity in particular, was just a historical curiosity, and that science could explain everything. By the time I was in my mid- to late twenties, I was convinced that there was no God (or any spiritual reality). I did not believe that I had a soul; I thought I was just an intelligent animal, and that when I died, my consciousness would simply blink out. I thought that there was no ultimate meaning in life, and that people who believed in any form of God were seriously self-deluded. It was a bit depressing, but I believed it to be the best explanation of the way the world is, and truth is better than false comfort. If that’s not atheism, I’m not sure what counts…

Sometimes I’ll hear atheists argue that “you don’t have to believe in God to be a moral person.” I agree! I know from my own experience that atheists can be moral people and do good deeds. What I couldn’t do, as an atheist, was to give a compelling reason why I had this moral sense, or to explain why I recognized that my efforts to be good always fell short of my ideals.

I also didn’t understand, then, that Christian teachings on virtue and morality were anything other than a set of rules and pious slogans – I didn’t know that the Church offered a relationship with a living Person who would, if you would allow it, actually do something to change and transform you into a new person, a fully alive person… But that was a something that took quite a while to understand, and indeed it’s only since I’ve become a Catholic that I’ve begun to fully appreciate the fullness and transformative power of God’s grace, above all through the Eucharist. It’s a completely different paradigm.

BRANDON: You followed a unique route to God, one that was philosophical but just as much literary. How did your background as an English professor fuel your conversion, and how did the imagination play a significant role?

DR. HOLLY ORDWAY: I wasn’t interested in hearing arguments about God, or reading the Bible, but God’s grace was working through my imagination… like a draft flowing under a closed and locked door.

To begin with, classic Christian literature planted seeds in my imagination as a young girl, something I write about in more detail in my book. Later, Christian authors provided dissenting voices to the naturalistic narrative that I’d accepted—the only possible dissenting voice, since I wasn’t interested in reading anything that directly dealt with the subject of faith or Christianity, and thus wasn’t exposed to serious Christian thought.

I found that my favorite authors were men and women of deep Christian faith. C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien above all; and then the poets: Gerard Manley Hopkins, George Herbert, John Donne, and others. Their work was unsettling to my atheist convictions, in part because I couldn’t sort their poetry into neat ‘religious’ and ‘non-religious’ categories; their faith infused all their work, and the poems that most moved me, from Hopkins’ “The Windhover” to Donne’s Holy Sonnets, were explicitly Christian. I tried to view their faith as a something I could separate from the aesthetic power of their writing, but that kind of compartmentalization didn’t work well, especially not with a work of literature as rich and complex as The Lord of the Rings.

Eventually, I came to the conclusion that I needed to ask more questions. I needed to find out what a man like Donne meant when he talked about faith in God, because whatever he meant, it didn’t seem to be ‘blind faith, contrary to reason’.

The Christian writers did more than pique my interest as to the meaning of ‘faith’. Over the years, reading works like the Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings, and Hopkins’ poetry had given me a glimpse of a different way of seeing the world. It was a vision of the world that was richly meaningful and beautiful, and that also made sense of both the joy and sorrow, the light and dark that I could see and experience. My atheist view of the world was, in comparison, narrow and flat; it could not explain why I was moved by beauty and cared about truth. The Christian claim might not be true, I thought to myself, but it was had depth to it that was worth investigating.

BRANDON: For years you trained as a competitive fencer, traveling to tournaments across the country (and winning not a few awards.) How did fencing relate to your conversion?

DR. HOLLY ORDWAY: Fencing related to my conversion in several ways, but most directly, through the witness of my fencing coach! It was a surprise to me, after working with my coach for about a year, to learn that he was a Christian. He was an exemplary coach, very patient (and I wasn’t the easiest student!), intelligent, and thoughtful, yet clearly a committed Christian, and thus he challenged my stereotypes about Christians as being pushy and thoughtless. So, when I became curious about what Christians really believed—when poetry had done its work!—I realized that I could ask my coach questions and feel safe and respected while having a dialogue about these issues.

After I became a Christian, fencing became an avenue for discipleship and a real-time metaphor for growing in the Christian life. “Taking up the sword of the Spirit” resonated with me!

BRANDON: In Not God's Type, you recount several books that proved helpful during your exploration. What were some of them?

DR. HOLLY ORDWAY: I read a lot of books! C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity was one of the most important ones, particularly with regard to his moral argument, but also for the way that he provides vivid images and analogies to illuminate what words like ‘faith’ and ‘repentance’ mean.

For the philosophical and historical questions, I was particularly helped by a book called Does God Exist?, a debate between J.P. Moreland (a Christian) and Kai Nielsen (an atheist), articles by philosopher William Lane Craig, and the book In Defense of Miracles, which includes David Hume’s famous argument against miracles as well as arguments for the possibility of miracles. One of the most important books I read was N.T. Wright’s magisterial scholarly work The Resurrection of the Son of God, which convinced me that the Resurrection was a fact of history.

Literature also helped me along the way. In particular, the Chronicles of Narnia helped me connect my intellect and my imagination, so that I grasped the meaning of the Incarnation and saw its importance not as an abstract idea, but as something that impacted my life.

BRANDON: Perhaps the key hinge of your conversion was when you came to believe in the historical resurrection of Jesus from the dead. What evidence led you to that conclusion?

DR. HOLLY ORDWAY: One of the first steps to that conclusion was my realization that miracles are both possible and rational. Since I had come (on other grounds) to believe that there is a transcendent Creator who is the source of morality, order, and rationality, then it made sense that the physical world was orderly and comprehensible, with natural causes operating in a regular way, but also that there was a supernatural dimension of reality. Just as I could allow nature to take its course in a garden, or I could act to alter the course of ‘natural’ events  by planting a tree or pulling up a seedling, it was rational to suppose that the Creator could work with natural causes or could act directly, intervening in history. So I was willing to consider at least the possibility that a particular miracle could have happened: the Resurrection.

There were many pieces of evidence that all fit together to make a convincing case for the Resurrection; I’ll mention just a couple here. One of them is the behavior of the disciples before and after the Resurrection. The Gospel accounts do not portray their behavior after the Crucifixion in a particularly flattering light. Even though Jesus had predicted his own resurrection, the disciples gave up and went away, assuming that Jesus was a failed messiah. If the disciples had made up the Resurrection story afterwards, why would they have included details that made them look disloyal and cowardly? My academic studies in literature allowed me to recognize that the Gospels were written as history, not myth or parable, and that there hadn’t been enough time for a legend to form. It began to seem like the best explanation for all these events being recounted this way, was that they really happened.

Then, after the Resurrection, there’s a complete turn-around in their behavior, and they become bold proclaimers of the Risen Lord. There were plenty of words that people in ancient times could have used to describe visions or sightings of ghosts, and indeed, such language would have gotten them in much less trouble! But they spoke of a Jesus who was alive, bodily resurrected, and in short order were willing to die for that claim.

Perhaps the most convincing evidence for the Resurrection, though, was the Church itself. If I supposed that the Church had invented the Resurrection to explain its own worship of Jesus, I had to ask, how did that worship arise in the first place? If the Church was not the result of a miracle, it was itself a miracle.

It’s important to say that there was no single, knock-out piece of evidence that convinced me; I was convinced by the cumulative claim, the way it all fit together. Historical events can’t be proved like a math problem or tested like a scientific hypothesis, and there’s always a way to form an alternate explanation. But just because an alternative exists doesn’t mean it’s is equally reasonable or likely. Speaking within my own field of literature, there are people who claim that William Shakespeare didn’t really write his plays. There are even a few legitimately fuzzy areas: for instance, a few of his plays were co-authored, and it seems likely to me that at least one passage in Macbeth (Hecate’s speech) was a later interpolation. Nonetheless, the evidence taken as whole points to Shakespearean authorship!

So, that’s what happened with my assessment of the Resurrection, except with even more convincing reasons to support the Christian claim. The evidence was best explained by concluding that the Resurrection really happened. And having come to that conclusion, I knew that there were implications in my life. I had to ask myself: “What does this mean for me? What do I do now…?”

That’s where the imagination had a role, once again: in helping me make the connection between intellect and will. Indeed, imaginative literature continues to play an important part in my Christian life. Great novels and poetry nourish me as a Catholic, helping me to grow in the faith—and to delight in it.
 
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Brandon Vogt

Written by

Brandon Vogt is a bestselling author, blogger, and speaker. He's also the founder of StrangeNotions.com. Brandon has been featured by several media outlets including NPR, CBS, FoxNews, SiriusXM, and EWTN. He converted to Catholicism in 2008, and since then has released several books, including The Church and New Media (Our Sunday Visitor, 2011), Saints and Social Justice (Our Sunday Visitor, 2014), and RETURN (Numinous Books, 2015). He works as the Content Director for Bishop Robert Barron's Word on Fire Catholic Ministries. Brandon lives with his wife, Kathleen, and their five children in Central Florida. Follow him at BrandonVogt.com or connect through Twitter at @BrandonVogt.

Note: Our goal is to cultivate serious and respectful dialogue. While it's OK to disagree—even encouraged!—any snarky, offensive, or off-topic comments will be deleted. Before commenting please read the Commenting Rules and Tips. If you're having trouble commenting, read the Commenting Instructions.

  • Kevin Aldrich

    This was enjoyable to read. Dr. Ordway seems to have been a pretty happy person who became even happier and maybe better by her conversion.

    So next, in fairness, perhaps we need an interview of a Catholic who followed a path to atheism?

    • Mike

      I wonder if one of the atheist commentators would be willing. It would be intriguing to hear their story.

      • I agree! If you're a convert to atheism, please reply to this comment or email me at brandon@brandonvogt.com and we'd be very interested in an in interview.

        • I'm going to take you up on that. I have an author friend in mind who had just released a book.

          • Cool! Just send me an email. We may arrive at the first SN article in history that you see a point in posting ;)

          • Gray Striker

            Kind of a backhanded insult there Brandon. When was your last class in diplomacy?

          • Mike

            Really?

          • Gray Striker

            Now see what you have started;-)

          • I could write you my own story titled "From Vague Believer in Spirituality to Polite Atheist Troll", but it would likely be pretty dull!

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I don't know, sounds worth a read to me. Genuine politeness in itself is an exciting find in a contentious online environment. That rare "troll" who has the maturity and wisdom to voice substantive disagreements while remaining polite is worth listening to, in my book.

        • Gray Striker

          Hey!.....Brandon has made the challenge....but is there anyone who is confident enough, and who thinks he or she is up to the challenge? I too as an agnostic would be extremely attentive and interested to witness such an interview.....but it would take confidence and courage for one to partake in such.....are there any on EN or elsewhere in cyberspace, up to the challenge? I doubt it!A lot of bluster and intellectual posturing I see on EN, but l see no sign of anyone who is up to snuff as a challenger for any interview with Brandon on SN. Surely there must be someone out there in the land of EN with enough academic degrees and balls to handle someone who they are fond of ridiculing and claiming to be less than worthy of his position as moderator on SN. Yeah...I know....it is certainly not I who is worthy of the challenge.

          • Michael Murray

            If you want atheist conversion stories try here

            https://richarddawkins.net/convertscorner/

            or the Clergy Project

            http://www.clergyproject.org

          • Is that the best out there? They are very short and most seem to caricature the faith in a major way.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            The first post on the clergy project is fairly compelling.

          • Gray Striker

            I read it....quite the story.

          • I guess it is not terrible. I live in Canada so I am quite familiar with the Residential Schools scandal. He was Anglican. They can be quite liberal. That is they can see the church as a ministry of being nice to people. So when the church treats people badly that can shake them. The scandals disappoint us but they don't shake us. We believe the church is about encountering Jesus. Some bad people in the church should not surprise us. It just means we need Jesus even more than we thought we did.

            Reading Dawkins? Really? Makes you wonder. There has to be more to it than that. Still he does not sound like a deep thinker. In other words he does not sound like me at all.

            In one way he is like me. We both had a pastor for a dad. We both decided the church he gave his life to was actually not teaching the truth. I respect him for being true to his convictions and making the move.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I guess it is not terrible. I live in Canada so I am quite familiar with the Residential Schools scandal. He was Anglican. They can be quite liberal. That is they can see the church as a ministry of being nice to people. So when the church treats people badly that can shake them. The
            scandals disappoint us but they don't shake us. We believe the church isabout encountering Jesus. Some bad people in the church should not surprise us. It just means we need Jesus even more than we thought we did.

            You will know them by their fruits. Corruption and wrong doing are systemic to religions institutions. Perhaps, Christianity played a larger role in Colonial Imperialism than the apologists would lead us to believe. Perhaps these children were abused because of the proselytizing nature of Christianity rather than a lack of Christian virtue by a few missionaries. I'm not sure more Christianity is the answer here as you seem to suggest. Regardless, it forced the clergy member in question to take a hard look at the problem of evil and the cause of evil, which caused him to abandon his faith.

            Reading Dawkins? Really? Makes you wonder. There has to be more to it than that. Still he does not sound like a deep thinker. In other words he does not sound like me at all.

            Again, I think the main catalyst for his deconversion was the problem evil. I'm not sure why you are concluding that he is not a deep thinker - because he read and was influenced by Dawkins? That does not follow.

            In one way he is like me. We both had a pastor for a dad. We both decided the church he gave his life to was actually not teaching the truth. I respect him for being true to his convictions and making the move.

            I think this is the main point of these conversion stories. It is nice to read other people's experiences with faith and why they believe what they believe; it helps us understand where different people are coming from. Furthermore, many people who are contemplating leaving the Church that they grew up in feel alienated and isolated from their friends and families; testimonials like the ones on the clergy project alleviate these tensions.

          • Michael Murray

            Wouldn't it be a little strange for someone who has been banned from StrangeNotions, which is the case for most people at EN, to be interviewed for it ? For consistency Brandon would have to delete all the interviewee's side of the interview.

          • Gray Striker

            It does not have to be anyone from EN necessarily, just someone with an interesting de-conversion story, and who has an academic shingle or two behind his or her name.
            Brandon put out the "challenge", and those interested can apply for an "audition" for the interview.
            Brandon's Invitation.

            If you're a convert to atheism, please reply to this comment or email me
            at brandon@brandonvogt.com and we'd be very interested in an in
            interview.

          • Michael Murray

            A lot of bluster and intellectual posturing I see on EN,

            There is an invite over there for your to join in and show them where they have gone wrong. Sorry I am doing all the replying but as I said before most of them can't.

          • Gray Striker

            I have no desire to run the gauntlet over there and don't feel any obligation to defend or justify my comment. Judging from the things I read over there they are not so thin skinned that their feelings would be hurt by it. However I do think that it was a little heavy handed of SN to ban so many of them, and if allowed to participate here, it would only add to the interest of the site and may attract a wider participation.Just MHO for what its' worth.

          • Gray Striker

            I think that you will find that I have done that Michael, in a round about manner.

          • David Nickol

            I think "How I Converted from Atheism to Catholicism" makes for a very appealing story (although presumably it is mainly Catholics who buy the books!), whereas "How I Started as a Catholic and Accumulated Enough Doubts Over Many Years To Make Me Some Kind of Nonbeliever" is not going to have a huge audience, unless perhaps it is written by someone already famous or highly placed in the Church.

            Many of us here are not confirmed atheists or even confirmed agnostics, but rather people who are very skeptical about religious claims. I, for one, am much more comfortable questioning assertions than making assertions of my own. I suppose if I hadn't been raised and educated as a Catholic, I might be comfortable practicing some other religion at this stage of my life, but when you have been raised in the "One True Faith" and taught that Catholicism is the ultimate Truth, once you don't believe it any more, there's kind of nowhere else to go. Once you've had the one true religion, you don't find the other one true religion.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I suppose if I hadn't been raised and educated as a Catholic, I might be comfortable practicing some other religion at this stage of my life, but when you have been raised in the "One True Faith" and taught that Catholicism is the ultimate Truth, once you don't believe it any more, there's kind of nowhere else to go. Once you've had the one true religion, you don't find the other one true religion.

            I feel the same way.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Depends how well the book is written, I think! From what I can tell, yours is the sort of perspective that one finds throughout the Bible, and that is a set of books that has sold pretty well over the years! I understand that the etymology of "Israel" is somewhat contested, but I am drawn to the idea that it means "He who struggles with God". In any event, the Bible seems to be replete with the stories of people who developed an understanding of God based on the religious conventions of their time, but who were then were called by God to go beyond that understanding. The OT development of monotheism out of a background of polytheism and henotheism seems to fit this mold, for example.

            Whether I am right to understand the Bible that way or not, I would say in any case that it is the mature perspectives of those who neither fully embrace institutional religion nor totally reject it that interest me the most. Those are the perspectives that seem most in tune with a God who reveals himself, even while forever refusing to be completely understood.

          • Michael Murray

            I found Kenneth W Daniels book: Why I Believed: Reflections of a Former Missionary, really interesting

            http://www.kwdaniels.com

            But I guess that was because as an Australian with an Irish Catholic upbringing the American Protestant evangelical world was something I was completely unfamiliar with.

          • Gray Striker

            Therein lies the rub.

            when you have been raised in the "One True Faith" and taught that Catholicism is the ultimate Truth, once you don't believe it any more, there's kind of nowhere else to go.

            When a Catholic loses their faith, as they say...Once a Catholic always a Catholic, in sense that is very true. The only other alternatives are agnosticism or atheism. But at least all of the other religions have been more or less rendered neutral at least for the one's who were raised Catholic. The disquieting thing about it is that one is often reevaluating the validity or truth of the faith, unless one is able to make a complete break with his connection to the church, and more often not that is not the case with the majority of ex adherents of the faith....they simply drift away from the church and try not to think too much about it.

          • boinkie

            there are lots of books out about turning atheist. Where do you find your reading matter?

          • Paul B. Lot
          • Gray Striker

            ditto......see above.

        • walker_percy

          I think the interview should start with unpacking the phrase "convert to atheism."

          • Gray Striker

            Perhaps the proper term would be de-conversion.

          • Not sure what "de-conversion" means. When you move from one belief system to another you convert. When you change from Mac to PC you call it a conversion. When you change from PC to Mac you call it a conversion. De-conversion is a bit like unthaw. It is a word that makes no logic sense yet people use it.

          • Gray Striker

            I don't think atheism or for that matter agnosticism can really be considered belief systems......but more accurately would be absence of a belief system.

          • But you can't not have a belief system. Even nihilism is a belief. Atheism is consistent with many belief systems but in practice most atheists believe some variant of scientific materialism. You are moving from one belief to another. You are converting.

          • Gray Striker

            As sometimes happens on here terms get unnecessarily bogged down in semantics. de-conversion/conversion......tomato tomahto, And people end up going off on too many tangents. Anyway I don't think it matters which word is used.

        • Paul B. Lot

          Brandon, I would love it if you would interview me.

          • Great, Paul! Were you the one that just emailed me? If so, I replied. If not, please email me at brandon@brandonvogt.com. Thanks!

          • Paul B. Lot

            One and the same.

          • Gray Striker

            Well if you are serious drop him an email with a little bio and a bit of background info. But I am sure that only serious candidates will be considered. Perhaps you could post the same bio and info over at EN, sort of like a candidate campaigning for a position and even woo some supporters for yourself. Including a personal blog of your own outlining your personal journey from "faith" to atheism would be great. It is simple, easy and free to set up a blog on blogspot.com They even provide a variety of free templates.

          • Paul B. Lot

            Per your advice, I dropped him an email, although that's the only advice I'll be accepting -- I won't be trying to 'woo' any supporters.

            I think it mildly interesting that you phrased Brandon's offer as a "challenge".... in fact the whole way you phrased your post is very odd. I don't think I'll be interacting directly with you much more.

            The call was for atheists who would be willing to share their deconversion, and I am.

          • Gray Striker

            >blockquote>I think it mildly interesting that you phrased Brandon's offer as a
            "challenge".... in fact the whole way you phrased your post is very odd.

            I find it "mildly interesting" that you have a problem with an innocuous word such as "challenge", because anytime a theist shows up at EN.....they are challenged to show compelling evidence to justify their faith or belief in God.

        • Jim Dailey

          Have you ever read "In the Beauty of the Lilies" by Updike? The first part of the book describes a protestant minister who becomes an atheist. It is fiction, but it sounds like it was either written from his heart, or from the heart of someone he knew and respected. Frankly, I bet you could post a couple of key paragraphs and many atheists would say Updike hits the spot.

  • There is no evidence that the supposed eye witnesses to Jesus' resurection died rather than recant that claim. To ground such a claim, we would need credible evidence that these individuals were given the choice of saying they were lying about the resurrected Jesus and living or be executed. If you have this information, please let me know!

    • "There is no evidence that the supposed eye witnesses to Jesus' resurection died rather than recant that claim. To ground such a claim, we would need credible evidence that these individuals were given the choice of saying they were lying about the resurrected Jesus and living or be executed. If you have this information, please let me know!"

      I'm glad you asked because there is plenty of evidence! For instance, see the book of Acts, which even when treated purely as a historical document and not as an inspired religious text contains reliable support for this claim. There we find accounts of several eyewitnesses who were unafraid to share what they saw and experienced with Jesus, even when this testimony resulted in their imprisonment or mistreatment. Some of them, including Stephen and James, died for this belief. Would so many people suffer so much pain and torture for a belief they knew to be a lie?

      The earliest accounts we have regarding the apostles' deaths all reveal them dying as persecuted martyrs. There is no evidence to the contrary. While the details related to these deaths vary from tradition to tradition, the fact they died as martyrs is a point of uniform agreement.

      The evidence for Peter's martyrdom is particularly strong. We have evidence in John's Gospel (John 21:18-19), which was written about thirty years after Peter's death. (In his book Peter, Paul, & Mary Magdalene, biblical skeptic Bart Ehrman agrees this passage alludes to Peter's past martyrdom.) Other evidence can be found in early Church fathers such as St. Clement of Rome, St. Ignatius, Dionysius of Corinth, St. Irenaeus, Tertullian and more. The early, consistent and unanimous testimony is that Peter died as a martyr.

      Finally, we must not discount the evidence from the lives of other early Christians who were willing to die for their belief in the resurrected Jesus in imitation of their forebears. They constantly affirmed the apostles' martyrdom accounts by such references.

      • I know this, but the argument only works if you have evidence that these disciples were given the option to recant what they claimed to have personally and live, or stand by it and be executed.

        Even if we consider Acts a100% accurate, it does not make out the argument that the disciples died for a lie.

        Stephen's death is described in Acts 6, he is not accused of seeing Jesus die and resurrect, but of speaking "blasphemous words against Moses and against God", and saying that "Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us."

        Acts does NOT say that those who seized Stephen said "you have been going around saying you witnessed Jesus die and be resurrected, admit you are lying or we will kill you."

        They ask him not what he witnessed, but whether it is so, presumably that Jesus will destroy the place and the customs from Moses. So Stephen is being asked what he believes, not what he has witnessed. He then gives a relatively lengthy recap of the Old Testament and rebukes the others of murdering Jesus and persecuting him as their fathers persecuted the prophets and not keeping the law. So they stone him to death. He is killed for blasphemy. There is no offer his being spared if he admits anything.

        With respect to James, all Acts says is that Herod killed him with a sword. Not why, and there is no evidence of his being given the option of living if he admitted he lied about what he saw in the late 20's early 30's AD.

        As for Peter, we have in John a prophecy that he will die and "by what death he should glorify God." No story of his death, that he did die or how, much less that he was accused of lying about Jesus and given the option to live if he recanted and refused to do so.

        The question is not whether they died for their beliefs or were martyrs, but what do these deaths demonstrate? You can find people today who die and kill for their beliefs all the time, from Crusaders, to Al Queda suicide bombers, to the Muslims who will not convert to ISIS' version of Sunni Islam, to atheists being executed for blasphemy. These deaths all demonstrate devotion, to be sure, but not whether the things they claim to be devoted to are true.

        But you need more than devotion to belief to make the "no one would die for a lie argument" you need them to have the option of admitting they are lying about something they said they witnessed and being saved.

        • People living in that time knew what could get them killed. If Jesus was killed then being a follower of Jesus could get you killed. If other followers of Jesus were being killed then all the more reason to have nothing to do with this group.

          Now if the central claim of the group is Jesus rose from the dead and one of the key witnesses to said claim is none other than yourself then you are in a position to know whether the claim is true or false. Did you see Him alive?

          If you not only say Yes but are willing to put your neck on the line for that Yes that is hard to understand if you *know* it is not true. It is the basic concept that people don't make statements against their own interests unless they are true.

          So the standard you set is very strange and really not worth talking about. Were there significant costs to being an eye witness of the resurrection? Yes. Were there powerful enemies of Christianity that would love it if a disciple recanted? Sure. Was there any record of a disciple recanting? No.

          • David Nickol

            If Jesus was killed then being a follower of Jesus could get you killed.

            Actually, one of the puzzling questions (for me) is why only Jesus was crucified. If he was dangerous enough for the authorities to kill, why were his twelve closest handpicked followers not even arrested?

            And if they began aggressively to promote a Jesus movement only weeks after the crucifixion, why didn't the same authorities who killed Jesus realize what a mistake they had made in not killing the closest followers, round them up, and get rid of them?

            The thing we always have to remember in this story is that although the Gospels portray Jesus as drawing huge crowds, "Christianity" never amounted to a major movement in Palestine. I have seen an estimate that by the year 100, there were only a thousand Jewish-Christian converts. Christianity was not a great success among the people who had allegedly heard Jesus preach or seen him perform miracles.

            In other words, as the NAB rather unpoetically puts it (compared to the KJV),

            He came to what was his own, but his own people* did not accept him.

            Footnoted as follows:

            What was his own…his own people: first a neuter, literally, “his own property/possession” (probably = Israel), then a masculine, “his own people” (the Israelites).

          • People play with numbers. By the year 100 Jerusalem had fallen. The Christians were not well thought of after that. Jesus had predicted that event so the Christians did not stay and defend the city. There were other persecutions and a famine. One of the things that caused the church to grow was the fact that many Christians were forced to leave Israel. How many were left in 100AD? They are talked about as part of the Bar Kokhba revolt. There must have been enough of them to matter.

          • No, the word Christian doesn't even appear until the late first century. Governor Pliny in 112 writes his emperor Trajan to ask what he should do with this new "superstition" he has really no idea what their creed is and says I'm basically going to kill them if they refuse to sacrifice to the gods. He certainly isn't seeking them out.

          • The word Christian is in Acts. Anyone who says it does not appear until the late first century has already begged a thousand questions.

            I was not talking about Pliny and Trajan. Bar Kokhba was a Jewish revolt in the second century. I believe the leader at some point declared himself to be the Messiah. That caused all the Christians to abandon him. If there were no Christians among the Jews I wonder how that story could happen.

          • Abe Rosenzweig

            Well, yes, it's in Acts... but Acts is from the late 1st-century, so what's your point?

          • Again begging questions.

            Just reading through Acts recently at the dinner table. One thing striking is the pronoun switches. The author talks is the third person for a long time, they went here, they did this. Then he switches to the first person, we traveled to ... It does strike me as very hard to believe someone writing over 100 years later is going to write that way. It very much reads like the normal way of speaking because the author was with Paul for some of the trips and not for others.

          • Abe Rosenzweig

            What question am I begging? All I was doing was pointing out that the fact that the word Christian first appears in Acts does not change the fact that it first appeared in the late 1st-century, since Acts, at the earliest, is from the late 1st-century.

          • Saying Acts is from the late first century is assuming a certain school of thought is true. There are a ton of problems with that assertion. You choose to ignore them all. Do you even know why some people say Acts is written so late? It is mostly because they have to save their anti-supernatural assumptions.

            As for the word "Christian." Even if it was written in the late second century it still does not fit. The book obviously asserts the word was used over 100 years earlier. Why would a book of fake history note such a thing if the word was just a recent innovation? It is like someone saying WWI was the first time the word "internet " was used. Nobody would say that and nobody would believe that. Yet we are supposed to believe Acts adds such a crazy statement for no apparent reason.

          • Abe Rosenzweig

            I honestly have no idea what your second paragraph is supposed to mean, but as for the dating of Acts, nobody places it earlier than 60, most place it between 80 and 90, and some place it in the early 2nd Century. My inclination is to let ambiguity be ambiguity, and not pinpoint a date on the basis of too little info. Nevertheless, Acts was most certainly written after Luke, and Luke was written after 70. I have no dog in this fight that leads me to want to be any more precise than saying that Acts is post-70. 70 is, surely by anyone's definition, the late 1st-century.

          • Why should we believe Luke written after 70? It is based on assumptions that Jesus could not possibly know about the destruction of Jerusalem. Really assuming Christianity is false. If you are trying to figure out if Christianity is true or false you should not start with that assumption.

            When Acts was written is fairly obvious. He stops telling the story at a certain point. Peter and Paul were martyred just a few years later. Why stop at that point? Because he was just bringing history up to date. Leaving out the martyrdoms of Peter and Paul and including long discourses with Felix and Agrippa makes no sense unless those events had not happened yet.

            The second paragraph is rather simple. If Acts is written in the late second century and the word "christian" is first used in the late second century then you would expect the author of Acts to know that. He does not. In fact he claims to know the opposite. He claims to know exactly when and where this word was first used. That is in Antioch in the middle of the first century.

          • Abe Rosenzweig

            Whaaaaat? Who is saying that Acts was written in the late 2nd-century? I don't know ANYONE who says that Acts was written much later than 110ish. I still don't understand what you're trying to say.

            If the date of Acts' authorship is "fairly obvious," then you need to be endowed with a chair in the most prestigious New Testament faculty possible, because nobody else seems able to see what you find so obvious.

          • Jim Dailey

            I think it has to do with whether the Roman emperor was seeking out "Christians" to kill them. Adams says no, the word "Christian" does not even appear until...., and Gritter says it is in Acts, which was written.....
            I think that's what is going on anyway.

          • Caravelle

            Here is part of a series of posts looking at the dating of Acts, and it mentions at least one person who puts it at 130 ce:
            http://vridar.org/2007/09/09/dating-the-book-of-acts-6-the-late-date-reconsidered-5/

          • Doug Shaver

            Why should we believe Luke written after 70? It is based on assumptions that Jesus could not possibly know about the destruction of Jerusalem.

            I believe that the gospels and Acts are all second-century documents, and my reasons don't have anything to do with whether Jesus or anybody else could have predicted anything about the future.

          • Do you have a link to something that explains those reasons briefly? I would appreciate that.

          • Doug Shaver

            The reasons I see for late dating have not been summarized on any website that I recall having been to. I'll do a summary myself and post it here as time permits, and I'll include whatever citations I can fish out of my memory.

          • Doug Shaver

            We know the canonical gospels must have been written before Irenaeus mentioned them around 180 CE, but how long before? I shall argue that (a) we don't really know, but (b) it is reasonable to believe it was not before 100 CE.

            My first encounter with scholarly work in support of this position was around the year 2000, when I discovered Earl Doherty's The Jesus Puzzle, a defense of the hypothesis that Jesus of Nazareth never existed. Doherty mentions the opinion of some scholars, whom he does not identify, that the gospels are all from the second century, only to disagree with them. His own dating is later than the consensus, but he still assigns early versions of at least Mark and Matthew to the turn of the century. Not long afterward I discovered the works of Robert M. Price, who, while agreeing with Doherty about Jesus' nonexistence, thinks he was too conservative about the gospels' dates. In arguing for a second-century provenance for all of them, Price identifies some scholars on whose work he bases his opinion, but I do not recall their names. I have several of Price's books, and the names are in at least one of them, and I can find them, but it could take a few hours of re-reading the books. I will do it if I must and come back with the relevant citations.

            What follows is my own thinking on the issue. Considering what I can remember having read in Doherty's and Price's works, I have no reason to believe that any of it is original. But my argument must stand or fall on its own merits, not on the scholarly credentials of whoever first made it. Insofar as I appeal to facts, I either have the facts correct or I don't. Insofar as I make any inferences from those facts, my inferences are either logically valid or invalid.

            Substantial portions of what follows are lifted from an article on my website, titled "Why the Gospels were Probably Works of Fiction."

            The conventional dates are based, it seems to me, on certain presuppositions about the general reliability of orthodox Christian history, as that history was presented by Eusebius. The conventional thinking in our own time about Christianity’s origins, even among secular historians, seems to be based largely on Eusebius's Ecclesiastical History. Some scholars have called it the “big bang” theory of Christian origins. In this scenario, one Jesus of Nazareth, a charismatic Jewish preacher, was executed by Judea’s Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, around 30 CE. Soon afterward certain of his disciples, known later as apostles, having become convinced that Jesus had risen from the dead, formed a religious sect based on his teachings and claiming that he was the son of God and the fulfillment of Jewish messianic prophecies. The sect’s original membership was overwhelmingly Jewish. Shortly after the sect’s founding, a Pharisee called Saul of Tarsus was converted and commenced a missionary campaign among gentiles under the new name of Paul. He was successful while the original apostles had little success in converting other Jews. After the First Jewish War, Christianity in effect severed its connection with Judaism while maintaining that it was the legitimate heir to the parent religion. As the sect’s founders died off, numerous competing versions of Christianity arose and had to be resisted by adherents of the original apostolic teachings. The dissident sects were eventually suppressed and labeled heretical while the purportedly apostolic teachings survived as the historic orthodoxy.

            One problem is that this account is itself just the historic orthodoxy. We are getting our history from the winners, and the winners, for nearly a thousand years, were the sole custodians of the documentary record. With almost no exceptions, we have no writings from ancient times except those that the church regarded as worth preserving. But we can use no evidence except existing evidence. Hypothetical facts, such as speculation about documents that might have existed but failed to be preserved, can never prove anything. The only facts we have are that certain manuscripts exist containing writings of a certain nature. They appear to be copies, several times removed, of certain original documents, concerning which the authors of certain other documents claim certain things about their provenance. It is not a fact, but only an inference based on presuppositions about the reliability of those claims, that the gospels’ authors intended their works to be biographical sketches about the founder of their religion.

            The Ecclesiastical History was written mostly if not entirely after the conversion of Emperor Constantine. The Roman version of Christianity, with which Eusebius was aligned, was calling the shots now: from this time forward, orthodoxy was whatever the church in Rome said it was. And according to the church in Rome, its authority was derived from the apostles’ authority. More than once in his history, Eusebius identifies orthodox belief with apostolic belief—not “Jesus said X” but “the apostles taught X.” Christians are supposed to believe whatever the apostles believed, but if you then want to know what the apostles believed, you have to ask the church in Rome. Even Protestants say this, except they don't tell you to ask the church in Rome. They tell you to ask whatever church they belong to.

            Precious few facts about Christianity’s origins are truly uncontested by all competent authorities. However, a substantial fraction of the competent authorities are adherents of Christianity, and we are not committing the genetic fallacy if we take that into consideration when assessing their judgments. I think that the handful of facts that actually are uncontested—the data disputed by nobody—are best explained by supposing the gospels to be fiction—perhaps historical fiction, but fiction nonetheless.

            By fiction, I do not mean fraud. I mean only that the writers of the gospels narratives neither (a) believed they were writing factual history nor (b) expected their readers to regard the narratives as factual history.

            For no ancient document is a presumption of historical reliability the correct default position. Evidence of the author’s intention to write history must be adduced from other pertinent facts. Testimony may suffice, if we know the basis on which the witness gives such testimony. In the case of the gospels, not even their existence is clearly and unambiguously attested before Irenaeus, ca. 180 CE. He tells us nothing about his sources of information about two of the authors, Luke and John, and for the other two he simply construes a vague offhand comment by Papias as proof that Matthew and Mark wrote them. No other patristic writer adds a single fact that provides any additional support to the historical orthodoxy about the gospels’ provenance. On that basis alone, a great deal of skepticism about their historical reliability would be justified. That does not yet rule out the possibility that the authors intended to write history, and I don’t claim that anything rules it out altogether. All things considered, though, I think there is sufficient evidence to establish reasonable doubt.

            Ever since the Enlightenment, among even non-religious and even atheist historians, it has seemed perfectly reasonable to assume that, regardless of one’s biases about religion in general or Christianity in particular, the church must in some general way have gotten its own history right, especially considering the witnesses of Josephus and Tacitus. I’m not arguing that the assumption is unreasonable, just that it really is only an assumption, and a dispensable one at that. There is nothing prima facie improbable about its being incorrect. Its denial does not oblige as to accept any conspiracy theories or other improbable alternatives. It presupposes nothing extraordinary. It presupposes nothing at all but ordinary human fallibility.

            A common (though not invariable) indication of fictional intent is the absence of any claim of reliance on sources. We might call this the pretense of omniscience. The writer simply says, “These things happened,” and the narrative includes information that nobody whom the author is likely to have conversed with could have known about. The author tells us what certain people were thinking. He gives the reader verbatim accounts of private conversations. The gospels are full of such incidents without any hint of how the authors found out about them. Of course this doesn't mean there is no way they could have known. Participants could have told people later, “This is what I was thinking when . . . .” Private conversations don’t have to stay private. Pilate’s wife could have told some people what she told Pilate about her dream. There are ways the authors could have found out about everything they put into their narratives. But we must ask what it is most reasonable to believe, taking into consideration that they don’t tell us how they found any of it out, and that three of them don’t mention even making any effort to find out.

            I have discussed the fiction hypothesis at such length because the conventional dating presupposes the contrary, that the gospel authors intended to give what they believed to be a true account of Jesus' ministry, death, and resurrection. This raises the question of why they believed the things they wrote. According to Eusebius (in reliance on Irenaeus), they believed it either because they witnessed those things (Matthew and Luke) or because they had talked with people who had witnessed them (Mark and Luke). Modern scholarship, for the most part, doubts that Eusebius was correct on that point, but it substitutes oral tradition for the eyewitness testimony we all wish we had. It says that the authors were not themselves eyewitnesses and did not personally know any eyewitnesses (or else they'd have said so), but they had to be getting their information somewhere (since they weren't just inventing the story out of whole cloth), and the only plausible remaining source was oral tradition.

            And if the gospels are to provide any historical information, as this account assumes they do, then good historiography demands that they be written as early as they could have been written. Irenaeus gives us a terminus ante quem in the late second century, but what about a terminus post quem? There is a broad consensus that Mark's gospel (whoever the author actually was) was the earliest, but how early? The author seems to include a reference to the destruction of the Jerusalem temple, so it could have been written around 70 CE. It could have been written even before then, for all we know, but if we want to avoid arguments about predictive prophecy, we'd rather not say it was, and so the scholarly community, wanting the gospels to have been written as early as they could have been written, has settled on an agreement that Mark's author got the gospel ball rolling around 70 CE.

            And maybe he did. Or maybe it was even earlier. Nothing in the text itself tells me that he could not have written his gospel within a few weeks after Jesus died. I don't have a problem with Jesus predicting the temple's destruction 40 years before it happened, considering that (according to the story) he didn't say anything about when it would happen. I don't believe that an intelligent person living in 30 CE needed any divine inspiration to realize that at some time in the indefinite future, the temple would no longer be standing.

            But neither does anything in Mark's or any other gospel tell me that it had to have been written during the first century. And neither does anything in any other surviving document known to have been written during the first two centuries. We do not have a solid terminus post quem for any of the canonical gospels other than sometime shortly after Jesus' death.

            But why then do I claim a probable terminus post quem of around 100 CE? Because I think it likely that we would have better evidence if they had existed earlier. I think their existence would have been unambiguously attested long before Irenaeus confirmed their existence, and I think he would have had more to say about how he thought he knew who wrote them. I do not think Justin would have referred to them so vaguely as merely "the apostles' memoirs." I believe Clement of Rome would have identified the documents he was quoting, if he had been quoting any documents. I believe that Ignatius, had he been quoting any sources he thought reliable, would have identified those sources. Before sometime during the second century, it seems to me, the gospels were a pack of dogs that weren't barking.

          • Thanks for that. It is helpful. A couple of comment. First about history being written by the winners. Christians were not the winners until the 4th century. So we have quite a few generations where pagan Rome controlled all the significant resources. So dogs could have been barking a lot and we would not know it. Even after the 4th century people were hardly of one mind. The church was never really very competent at controlling world-wide information flow. Data embarrassing to Christianity did survive.

            Secondly you seem to rely a lot on Christian sources being unreliable because they are Christian. Eusebius and Irenaeus stand out. I don't see a lot of reasons to doubt them. Most Christians I know are honest and fair. I read them and they seem that way. It seems that you have to think that believing in Christianity means they would falsify things to make Christianity look better than it was.

            Yet Christianity does not explicitly or implicitly encourage this at all. On the contrary, we are taught that what seems embarrassing to the faith often turns out to be our finest moments.The cross being the obvious example. So Christians are urged not to fix God's truth.

            By fiction, I do not mean fraud. I mean only that the writers of the gospels narratives neither (a) believed they were writing factual history nor (b) expected their readers to regard the narratives as factual history.

            This describes a religion so so different from Christianity. We have been over this before but you show no signs of grasping it. It means early Christianity has nothing to do with late Christianity. It means early Christianity has nothing to do with second-temple Judaism. It is an evidence-free assertion of a completely new theological animal.

            So aside from the fact that this just does not seem plausible when reading the gospels we have to believe in a strange discontinuity just to avoid encountering the powerful claims they make.

          • Doug Shaver

            First about history being written by the winners. Christians were not the winners until the 4th century. So we have quite a few generations where pagan Rome controlled all the significant resources.

            It would be interesting to see what a pagan writer of the third century would have said about Christianity's history up to that point if he had chosen to write a book on the subject. But as far as we know, that book never got written.

            Data embarrassing to Christianity did survive.

            Yes, and I'm using some of it in my analysis.

            I was using a cliché to make a point, and like most clichés, that one is not entirely accurate. For just one counterexample to a strict interpretation, Civil War historians have a great deal of historical documentation produced by people who were on the losing side of that conflict. But, precisely because we have those accounts, we know a great deal more about the Civil War than we would have known if we had to rely solely on what the South's adversaries had to say about it.

            Secondly you seem to rely a lot on Christian sources being unreliable because they are Christian.

            No, not because they are Christian. Because they are human. I don't privilege them. I don't trust them less than I would trust anyone else, but I don't trust them any more, either.

            Most Christians I know are honest and fair.

            So are most of the ones I know. But honest and fair people make mistakes. Honesty doesn't make anyone infallible.

            It seems that you have to think that believing in Christianity means they would falsify things to make Christianity look better than it was.

            I assume that Irenaeus and Eusebius believed everything they wrote. Their belief is not, by itself, reason enough for me to believe it.

            So Christians are urged not to fix God's truth.

            They are told what God's truth is.

            This describes a religion so so different from Christianity. We have been over this before but you show no signs of grasping it. It means early Christianity has nothing to do with late Christianity.

            There was certainly a relationship. Late Christianity evolved from early Christianity.

            It is an evidence-free assertion of a completely new theological animal.

            I gave you some of the evidence I'm using. I don't expect you to find it persuasive, but the evidence exists. And I don't see you denying that evidence. You're just disagreeing with me about what the evidence implies. Reasonable people can do that.

            So aside from the fact that this just does not seem plausible when reading the gospels we have to believe in a strange discontinuity just to avoid encountering the powerful claims they make.

            You may attribute whatever motives you wish to my skepticism about those powerful claims.

          • ben

            David Nickol: "...If he was dangerous enough for the authorities to kill, why were his twelve closest handpicked followers not even arrested?"...
            [1] If he was dangerous enough... (Question: How do you define "dangerous"?)

            Luke 22, 52-53:
            Then Jesus said to the chief priests and captains of the Temple guard and elders who had come for him, "Am I a bandit, that you had to set out with swords and clubs?
            When I was among you in the Temple day after day you never made a move to lay hands on me."

            [2] "... for the authorities to kill ..."
            Luke Chapter 23
            Jesus Before Pilate.
            1 Then the whole assembly of them arose and brought him before Pilate.
            2 They brought charges against him, saying, “We found this man misleading our people; he opposes the payment of taxes to Caesar and maintains that he is the Messiah, a king.”
            3 Pilate asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” He said to him in reply, “You say so.”
            4 Pilate then addressed the chief priests and the crowds, “I find this man not guilty.” ****

            Jesus Before Herod.
            6 On hearing this Pilate asked if the man was a Galilean;
            7 and upon learning that he was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod who was in Jerusalem at that time.
            11 [Even] Herod and his soldiers treated him contemptuously and mocked him, and after clothing him in resplendent garb, he sent him back to Pilate.
            13 Pilate then summoned the chief priests, the rulers, and the people
            14 and said to them, “You brought this man to me and accused him of inciting the people to revolt.
            I have conducted my investigation in your presence and *** [I] have not found this man guilty of the charges you have brought against him, ***
            15 nor did Herod, for he sent him back to us.

            So no capital crime has been committed by him.

            16 Therefore I shall have him flogged and then release him.”

            [3] ...why were his twelve closest ... not arrested?

            John 18:4 - 9
            4 Then Jesus, knowing all that was to befall him, came forward and said to them, "Whom do you seek?"
            5 They answered him, "Jesus of Nazareth." Jesus said to them, "I am he."
            6 When he said to them, "I am he," they turned and fell to the ground.
            7 Again he asked them, "Whom do you seek?" And they said, "Jesus of Nazareth."
            8 Jesus answered, "I told you that I am he; so, if you seek me, let these men go."
            9 This was to fulfil the word which he had spoken, "Of those whom thou gavest me I lost not one."

            >>... let these men go....<< You must realize that that was no mere request from some helpless arrestee held in their power. It was a command from God; not to be resisted, the apostles were under His *divine* protection.
            Though they themselves did not realize it and ran away in fear. Note also that when Jesus says I AM, that the mob turned and fell to the ground on their faces. This is an indication to the reader that it was in fact Jesus who was in charge. He could have destroyed them with just a word. But:

            Lk 22:
            54 But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?"
            56 But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled." Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.

            Mark 4:35-41
            Jesus Calms the Storm
            35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.”
            36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him.
            37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.
            38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
            39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
            40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
            41 They were terrified and asked each other, * * * “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” * * *

            Again, when Jesus said: ".... let these men go.... ", it WAS NOT a plea or request for mercy or favor; it was a divine command, irresistible - Jesus IS God.

            ----------
            David Nickol: "...And if they began aggressively to promote a Jesus movement only weeks after the crucifixion, why didn't the same authorities who killed Jesus realize what a mistake they had made in not killing the closest followers, round them up, and get rid of them?

            Acts 12 New American Bible (Revised Edition) (NABRE)
            Chapter 12: Herod’s Persecution of the Christians. (Note: Herod Agrippa ruled Judea A.D. 41–44)
            1 About that time King Herod laid hands upon some members of the church to harm them.
            2 He had James, the brother of John, killed by the sword,
            3 and when he saw that this was pleasing to the Jews he proceeded to arrest Peter also. (It was [the] feast of Unleavened Bread.)
            4 He had him taken into custody and put in prison under the guard of four squads of four soldiers each. He intended to bring him before the people after Passover.
            5 Peter thus was being kept in prison, but prayer by the church was fervently being made to God on his behalf.
            6 On the very night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter, secured by double chains, was sleeping between two soldiers, while outside the door guards kept watch on the prison.
            7 Suddenly the angel of the Lord stood by him and a light shone in the cell. He tapped Peter on the side and awakened him, saying, “Get up quickly.” The chains fell from his wrists.
            8 The angel said to him, “Put on your belt and your sandals.” He did so. Then he said to him, “Put on your cloak and follow me.”
            9 So he followed him out, not realizing that what was happening through the angel was real; he thought he was seeing a vision.
            10 They passed the first guard, then the second, and came to the iron gate leading out to the city, which opened for them by itself. They emerged and made their way down an alley, and suddenly the angel left him.
            11 Then Peter recovered his senses and said, “Now I know for certain that [the] Lord sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people had been expecting.”
            12 When he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John who is called Mark, where there were many people gathered in prayer.
            13 When he knocked on the gateway door, a maid named Rhoda came to answer it.
            14 She was so overjoyed when she recognized Peter’s voice that, instead of opening the gate, she ran in and announced that Peter was standing at the gate.
            15 They told her, “You are out of your mind,” but she insisted that it was so. But they kept saying, “It is his angel.”
            16 But Peter continued to knock, and when they opened it, they saw him and were astounded.
            17 He motioned to them with his hand to be quiet and explained [to them] how the Lord had led him out of the prison, and said, “Report this to James and the brothers.” Then he left and went to another place.
            18 At daybreak there was no small commotion among the soldiers over what had become of Peter.
            19 ****** Herod, after instituting a search but not finding him, ordered the guards tried and executed. ******* (!)

            David Nichol: "... The thing we always have to remember in this story is that although the Gospels portray Jesus as drawing huge crowds, "Christianity" never amounted to a major movement in Palestine.
            I have seen an estimate that by the year 100, there were only a thousand Jewish-Christian converts.

            Acts 2 New American Bible (Revised Edition) (NABRE)
            Chapter 2
            The Coming of the Spirit.
            1 When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together.
            2 And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were.
            3 Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them.
            4 And they were all filled with the holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.
            5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem.
            6 At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd, but they were confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language.
            7 They were astounded, and in amazement they asked, “Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans?
            8 Then how does each of us hear them in his own native language?
            12 They were all astounded and bewildered, and said to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others said, scoffing, “They have had too much new wine.”
            14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice, and proclaimed to them, “You who are Jews, indeed all of you staying in Jerusalem. Let this be known to you, and listen to my words.
            15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.
            32 God raised this Jesus; of this we are all witnesses.
            33 Exalted at the right hand of God, he received the promise of the holy Spirit from the Father and poured it forth, as you [both] see and hear.
            36 Therefore let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
            37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and they asked Peter and the other apostles, “What are we to do, my brothers?”
            38 Peter [said] to them, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins;
            and you will receive the gift of the holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is made to you and to your children and to all those far off, whomever the Lord our God will call.”
            40 He testified with many other arguments, and was exhorting them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.”

            ***** 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand persons were added that day. ********

            42 They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles... And * every day * the Lord * added to their number * those who were being saved.

            David Nichol: "...Christianity was not a great success among the people who had allegedly heard Jesus preach or seen[sic] him perform miracles. ..."
            [note: David Nichol alleges that Jesus said nothing; that He performed no miracles. Where is your proof? Back up YOUR allegations... Put forth your "testable/verifiable" evidence...]

            John Chapter 6
            I am the bread of life.
            49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died;
            50 this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die.
            51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”
            52 The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
            53 Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.
            54 Whoever eats[s] my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.
            55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.

            58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

            60 Then many of his disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?”

            64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him.
            65 And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.”
            **** 66 As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. ****

          • David Nickol

            If Jesus was killed then being a follower of Jesus could get you killed.

            An interesting point came up when I was checking my Anchor Bible version of Acts. To summarize it (as best I understand it), the Jewish powers that be had no authority to execute people, which is why they had to take Jesus to the Roman authorities and convince them to crucify Jesus. So where did the Jewish authorities then get the authority to execute the followers of Jesus after the crucifixion?

          • Who said they had authority? It seems they did occasionally break that rule. There were likely consequences but the Jews might have just blamed an uncontrollable mob. Still Acts contains stories of Jews asking permission of the Romans to kill Paul.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            They had the authority to put other Jews to death. They had to ask permission about Paul, because Paul was a Roman citizen.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I thought that the Jewish authorities could stone, but they couldn't crucify.

          • David Nickol

            I thought that the Jewish authorities could stone, but they couldn't crucify.

            It is not a question of whether the Jews could crucify. They didn't crucify, because crucifixion was a Roman method of execution, not a Jewish one. (Although see the footnote to John 18:32 below.) John 18:31-32 is as follows:

            At this, Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves, and judge him according to your law.” The Jews answered him, “We do not have the right to execute anyone,” in order that the word of Jesus might be fulfilled that he said indicating the kind of death he would die.

            The NAB has the following notes to the two verses:

            [18:31] We do not have the right to execute anyone: only John gives this reason for their bringing Jesus to Pilate. Jewish sources are not clear on the competence of the Sanhedrin at this period to sentence and to execute for political crimes.

            * [18:32] The Jewish punishment for blasphemy was stoning (Lv 24:16). In coming to the Romans to ensure that Jesus would be crucified, the Jewish authorities fulfilled his prophecy that he would be exalted (Jn 3:14; 12:32–33). There is some historical evidence, however, for Jews crucifying Jews.

            Exalted here means "lifted up," which is taken by John to imply crucifixion.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Interesting. I guess I had the wrong impression. I would have sworn that the Jews handed Jesus over to Pilate so he could be crucified instead of stoned, because a crucifixion fit a prophesy narrative.

          • David Nickol

            Why would the Jewish authorities have wanted the death of Jesus to fulfill any prophecy? It seems to me that is the last thing they would have wanted. John seems to be saying that Jesus had hinted he would be crucified, and for that to happen it was necessary that the Romans had to be the ones to execute Jesus, but I don't see any hint that the Jewish authorities specifically wanted Jesus crucified. They just wanted him executed.

            The Jewish idea of the Messiah in no way anticipated a Messiah who would be crucified. A lot of the Christian apologists' Old Testament "prophecies" about the Messiah are not in fact prophecies about a Messiah at all. (The word messiah is not found in the Old Testament.) They are passages that, after the fact, Jewish-Christians found in the Old Testament and applied to Jesus.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I'm not saying that the Jewish authorities wanted the death of Jesus to fulfill a prophecy. The gospel writer or maybe a church father may have thought the crucifixion would fulfill a prophecy, when a stoning would not. It wasn't the Jews reason for crucifixion, but rather the gospel writer or church father saw it as God's Hand fulfilling a prophecy.

            I'm not sure where I heard this whole crucifixion prophecy thing. I'm probably wrong. Many years of catholic school, retreats, and side reading and it all starts to blend together. There are many cases when a Gospel writer will point to an event and then claim in fulfills a prophecy - the crucifixion vs stoning is not one of these cases, but I thought it was.

          • "It is
            the basic concept that people don't make statements against their own
            interests unless they are true."

            This is obviously not the case. People will risk their lives for what they believe, irrespective of whether it is true.

            The claim is that no one would die for a lie they know is false, not "no one would die for what they believe". it is well accepted that people will die for what they believe to be true, even if it is unreasonable and false. Eg from your point of view, everyone that has, fought against Catholic forces in a religious war, every Muslim suicide bomber and so on.

          • That is the point. It is not just claimed Jesus rose from the dead. Who was there is also made clear. The disciples being the most obvious group. So if Christianity is false then those disciples were is the first group you mention. That is they risked their lives and many ultimately died for what they knew to be false.

          • I find the New Testament accounts unreliable, Peter and James' are laughable.

            But even if we accept them, they simply do not claim that anyone was given the option of living if they gave up "Christianity". The disciples might have thrown Jesus under the bus for all we know and been killed anyway for their blasphemy.

          • josephw

            haha. Mr skeptic finds the bible laughable. This is laughable in itself isn't it?

            Millions and millions and billions of people believe and have done so for 2k+ years. Your skepticism is yours and yours alone. Live with it.

      • Doug Shaver

        There [in the Acts of the Apostles] we find accounts of several eyewitnesses

        So says Christian orthodoxy.

    • Paul

      Pliny the Younger was governor of Pontus and Bithynia from 111-113. He wrote a letter to Trajan, Emperor of Rome from 98-117. Pliny explicitly asks Trajan what to do with this pesky group of people called "Christians." Trajan replies that public confession of the resurrected Christ is worthy of death (mainly because it also meant to refusal to worship the Roman gods). However, Trajan includes in his letter that should a Christian renounce Christ and worship the Roman gods, he should be spared.

      Here is a decent translation of the letters:
      http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/pliny.html

      • But Pliny was in 112,I think it is extremely unlikely that any of the people tried by Pliny could have known the pre-crucified Christ. If you are just saying that these people had faith and were willing to die for it rather than renounce Christianity, well we have hundreds of people from all kinds of different religions today who are willing to do that.

        For the die for a lie argument to work you need an eye witness of Jesus' ministry who saw him crucified and then resurrected. Was arrested and offered life if they admitted they made it up. We have no accounts of this.

        In his same letters Pliny notes that he doesn't even know what the creed of these Christians is, he seems to be executing them for failing to give up this "superstition" and sacrifice to the gods.

        • Paul

          I guess I find it likely that if it was true for the later Christians, it would be true for the earlier Christians. I think this is reasonable, but admittedly I do not know the history of legal precedence and whether Pliny or Trajan would have acted accordingly. It seems to me that governments would rather have living, obedient citizens than dead, disobedient ones (even if the obedience has to be coerced). Perhaps this is not the best assumption, but I can think of no hard evidence to support or refute it.

          So, I suppose you are right, this is an assumption on my part. However, I think it is at at least reasonable and worth consideration.

          • It is easy to get off track and start just considering whether people have died for their beliefs. This is definitely true of Christians. From what I read, there is little evidence of this in the decades after Jesus' death. I don't deny that thousands of Christians have died for what they believed, many by the Romans, many by other Christians on accusations of heresy, many by Muslims. Of course I expect this is true for all major religions. It is also true of atheists to some extent. We could discuss the extent of this martyrdom and what it means.

            But there is a specific argument with respect to the disciples of Christ that I am addressing. This argument is that the disciples would never have been executed if they were lying about having witnessed the Passion. They would have recanted to save their lives. You can see my exchange with Brandon to see just how weak this argument is. You can also listen to this podcast:

            http://freethoughtblogs.com/reasonabledoubts/2013/05/03/episode-114-the-myth-of-martyrdom-part-2-who-would-die-for-a-lie/

          • Doug Shaver

            It is easy to get off track and start just considering whether people have died for their beliefs.

            Nobody is disputing that people have died for their beliefs. We are disputing whether people die only for beliefs that are true.

            When we say that people will die for false beliefs, we do not say that they die for a lie. Anyone who dies for a lie dies for a belief that he knows not to be true, and in that case he does not die for anything he actually believes.

      • Mike

        fascinating.

      • Doug Shaver

        Trajan replies that public confession of the resurrected Christ is worthy of death

        Those are not his words.

  • Mike O’Leary

    There is some truth to the first question, when a person changes from religious position A to religious position B often the people in position A will try to undercut the sincerity of the person's earlier position. It's hard for people to accept that someone out there made a deliberate change from what they believe is so obviously true.

    There are two things though. One, this is certainly not just for those who go from non-belief to belief. Some Christians do it when a person goes from their faith to Islam, atheism, or whatever. Two, this doesn't just happen in the sphere of religion. When a person changes political parties or a position on a controversial topic the same charges of not truly understanding the earlier position will be thrown at the person. In short, this is just human nature in action and it's not limited to one particular ideology.

  • Mike

    The point about legends is interesting to me in that the rise of Christianity always seemed too fast for me if it was the result of some natural progression of the myth making process. Plus the fact that it was rejected by its ppl seemed weird as in why conjure up a story that not only gets you into trouble with the romans but also your own ppl; just seemed like the wrong way to go about it: why not have JC validate the jewish religious authorities and be accepted by them instead and have the romans be the only bad guys?

    About the church worshipping JC if it didn't believe in a bodily res. but a "spiritual" one: what i find interesting is why make up the res. after, if you did pretty well w/o it? i mean if you got all the way to convincing the roman emperor to worship christ why "risk it all" to make up a story about him being raised from the dead bodily if the "spiritual" resurrection had worked so well all those years. Seems like you wouldn't risk it all to bolster an already pretty successful ascent from nothing in rural judea to Rome.

    • Caravelle

      The point about legends is interesting to me in that the rise of
      Christianity always seemed too fast for me if it was the result of some
      natural progression of the myth making process.

      How fast was it ?

      Plus the fact that it was rejected by its ppl seemed weird as in why
      conjure up a story that not only gets you into trouble with the romans
      but also your own ppl; just seemed like the wrong way to go about it

      I'm sure the Mormons would agree.

      i mean if you got all the way to convincing the roman emperor to
      worship christ why "risk it all" to make up a story about him being
      raised from the dead bodily if the "spiritual" resurrection had worked
      so well all those years.

      What risk would that be? And I don't know when mythicists claim that the historicizing of Jesus happened, it seemed to me they mostly thought it was long done by the 4th century, but if mythicists did think it happened at the time of Constantine it seems to me like the very fact of convincing the Roman emperor would mark a huge transition in the religion's status, so ideas "having worked well all those years" when the religion was in a very different situation wouldn't mean much.

      • Mike

        Thx you flatter christianity vis a vis mormonism.

        • Caravelle

          What do you mean?

          • Mike

            Christ even in "distorted" form is very very attractive to ppl and his message even when warped bears much fruit exhibit a mormonism a christian sect founded on the broad shoulders of orthodox christianity.

          • Doug Shaver

            Christ even in "distorted" form is very very attractive to ppl and his message

            Is that why its founder and numerous other early members were murdered?

          • Mike

            I don't know.

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  • SocraticGadfly

    Per Kevin, just below, here's the first part of the story (told by myself) of a Lutheran who converted to atheism: http://wordsofsocraticgadfly.blogspot.com/2011/03/how-and-why-i-became-atheist-part-1.html

  • Tyler Janzen

    "What I couldn’t do, as an atheist, was to give a compelling reason why I had this moral sense, or to explain why I recognized that my efforts to be good always fell short of my ideals."

    What moral sense do we really have? People have to learn to consider other people's feelings and thoughts just like we have to learn everything else. If we can create a society where it's clearly beneficial for everyone to be peaceful and respectful than it will be easy to confer those traits on to future generations. Conversely we can also take ourselves in the other direction. But being a good person usually results in social experiences that lead us to feel good. There is a positive feedback loop. It's no mystery.

    As for efforts falling short of ideals. Life is a process of learning and growing. You focus on where you want to be and you keep at it and eventually you get there. We start out not even comprehending that other minds exist and keep moving forward from there. All we can expect of ourselves is to keep getting better. What is so confusing about this situation?

    "My atheist view of the world was, in comparison, narrow and flat; it
    could not explain why I was moved by beauty and cared about truth."

    Attraction and repulsion are necessary elements of survival. The by-product of this benefit is that certain things are naturally pleasurable, we can learn to produce things which instinctively tickle these carnal pleasure centers to great effect. Why we should expect that the mere rejection of an idea (atheism) should explain this is beyond me. I don't believe in the Easter Bunny either, but that is hardly a basis upon which I could make any reasonable assertions about the functioning of the human brain.

    Why do we care about truth? Seems like having a natural curiosity and wanting to understand the world around us is a major trait which was (evolutionarily) successful because it made us successful. Beyond that I want people to be honest with me so I am honest myself, and am therefore more easily able to surround myself with people who have this trait.

    "so that I grasped the meaning of the Incarnation and saw its importance not as an abstract idea, but as something that impacted my life."

    Why do I want my sins to be forgiven? I take it that is the supposed impact on someone's life when they accept Jesus? I may have made mistakes in ignorance but I take pride in answering for them myself. I take full responsibility for my own actions. I do not accept that I was made a sinner and that I will sin for that just sounds like a dangerous self fulfilling prophecy. I will do (my best to do) what's right because I choose to, and because no person or God can absolve me of my own conscience. I pick this out because I cant fathom how it is a good thing to believe, as far as people taking responsibility for their actions and being good people. Maybe I misunderstand what this author is getting at here. I think the point stands regardless.

    • Mila

      "If we can create a society where it's clearly beneficial for everyone to be peaceful and respectful than it will be easy to confer those traits on to future generations"
      Why not eliminate people with disabilities then. A blind, mute, physically impaired person doesn't really benefit society according to that logic.
      What is then beneficial for society? We had several societies thinking that what they were doing was beneficial but it turned out to be genocide.
      What is the basis on which a society considers something beneficial or not? Is there an absolute guide or is it up for grabs?

  • Dennis Bell

    "My academic studies in literature allowed me to recognize that the Gospels were written as history, not myth or parable, and that there hadn’t been enough time for a legend to form. It began to seem like the best explanation for all these events being recounted this way, was that they really happened."

    Ms. Ordway's academic studies apparently failed to detect that virtually everything in the New Testament has been recycled from legends, myths and parables about the gods of older cultures, without the support of even a shred of contemporary corroborative evidence.