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Freedom From Religion Foundation Lecture

On May 3 of this year I gave a lecture at a meeting of the Freedom from Religion Foundation in Raleigh NC.    The lecture is about what it is like to be an agnostic who writes about religion.  That’s an irony that I am constantly aware of and most of the lecture is about my experience as a non-religious person who is an expert in something he doesn’t believe in.

I also used  the lecture  to stress that being “free from religion” is not the same thing as “attacking religion.”  I absolutely agree with the founding principle of the FFRF that no religion (of any kind, Christian or otherwise) should be imposed on us by the state.  But I do not at *all* think that this is the same thing as being opposed to religion.  I am personally not opposed to religion or people who practice it (although I *am* quite definitely opposed to fundamenalist kinds of religion — whether Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or whatever).  And I think organized agnostic/atheist/secular/humanist attacks on religion per se are wrong-headed and (just as important) counter-productive.   In any event, I get into all that in my lecture, found here.  (I hope you like the statue I was given for the Emperor Has No Clothes Award !):

 

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Comments

  1. Matilda
    Matilda  August 16, 2014

    I think a lot of problems would be solved by coming up with a definition of what God is. I think a lot of religious people really don’t believe in a Biblical God except fundamentalists. The new God is “pure love” I’ve been told. Then there is the “who knows what God is” but there is certainly something more. When talking about belief in God people should be clear about what they mean.
    I like what you have said about the different types of god, Bart . I have come to learn that religion is mostly a hoax- maybe a well meaning hoax but non-the-less a hoax.

    • Bethany
      Bethany  August 17, 2014

      I recently read Karen Armstrong’s “A History of God” which argued, among other things:

      (1) There isn’t any one “Biblical God”. (I also recently read several interesting books discussing the development of Jewish monotheism and pointing out many places in the Jewish Bible where you can see the remnants of the older polytheistic traditions that monotheism arose from.

      (2) Far from being the only ones to hold the “traditional” view of God, the view held by fundamentalists is a recent development and theologically unsophisticated compared to many older views of God.

      I found it an interesting book.

      Personally, I’d argue that if you’ve come up with a definition of God, then you know right there your definition is incomplete.

    • VandaBlair  August 19, 2014

      I won’t say that I ‘know’ this as the reason, but a lot of religious people have redefined their definition of God as a way of shifting the goal posts. It’s a way to avoid certain arguments that might at least question the validity of their beliefs. That’s why there are so many vague definitions floating around.

      The more we debate the existence of God, the more people will change their definition of God in order to fit a round peg into a square hole. Suffering being round, God being square for example. The last thing believers I talk to will do is give up their belief.

      (It follows from something I have seen in most former believers I have met. They go through something similar to the Five Stages of Grief and Loss: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. All they want at the bargaining stage is to reach a workable compromise and not have to go further into the process of losing their faith.)

      So I don’t see a clear and precise definition of God coming any time soon from those that believe.

  2. Hana1080  August 16, 2014

    I apologize that at times my comments digress BUT they do pop up at odd times too while reflecting on what I’ve been reading .. Can the historical and current racism against the Jewish people be linked to Christianity in general and specifically the Gospel of John?

    • Hana1080  August 16, 2014

      If so, I am in fact horrified.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 17, 2014

      Not just to John, but in my view there was no such thing as anti-Judaism per se until Christainity arose.

      • Rosekeister
        Rosekeister  August 17, 2014

        Do you think the anti-Judaism arose because of the gospels or did the gospels reflect a growing anti-Judaism in the gentile churches? And for that matter, did this anti-Judaism arise because the NT documents were written in the run-up and during the Jewish wars against Rome or because, despite Jewish followers of Jesus, most of the Jews did not accept the Christian claims of Jesus as the Messiah?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  August 19, 2014

          Yes, I think anti-Judaism affected the Gospels andt he Gospels affected anti-Judaism, and that it all is tied directly to Jews not accepting messianic claims.

          • ksutherland  August 28, 2014

            messianic claims…. about Jesus. From what I understand Jews had messianic ideas but they did not align with the claims that Jesus was the messiah?

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  August 29, 2014

            I talk about this in several of my books — you might see the discussion, for example, in Jesus Interrupted.

      • Hana1080  August 18, 2014

        Reading your affirmation literally gave me chills right now … how horrific. Then this is one of the worst examples of Religious imperialism.

      • willow  August 19, 2014

        Odd, isn’t it? Considering the fact that Jesus was not ever a Christian, but always a Jew.

        • willow  August 19, 2014

          P.S., As for the statue, well, it is so rather amusingly interesting. And shiny.

        • ksutherland  August 28, 2014

          Interesting thought…. with Jesus being Jewish…. he would be familiar with the particular prophetic scriptural references and therefore would never claim to be the messiah (?)

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  August 29, 2014

            I think Jesus did understand himself to be the messiah. You might look at my discussion in How Jesus Became God.

      • prestonp  September 10, 2014

        What do we call the history of the persecution of the jews before christianity arrived? Did Christ promote anti-Judaism?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  September 10, 2014

          What persecutions of the Jews before Christianity are you thinking of? There were sometimes political issues in Palestine (and in Alexandria). But I don’t know of any persecutions of Jews for being Jewish (other than a general sense that barbarians — such as Jews and Ethiopians and Gallic tribes and so on — had very peculiar customs that could easily be mocked. I certainly don’t think Jesus wsa anti-Jewish. Just the contrary. But his later followers certainly *became* anti-Jewish.

          • prestonp  September 12, 2014

            This didn’t make it and I don’t know why. Jews have been under attack since god chose Abe and his descendants as his very own people.

            Can you be specific regarding his followers who were anti-Semitic? How does a follower hate someone and be a follower?

            14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death. 15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  September 12, 2014

            I am supposed to be writing a book soon (though it won’t be soon) on the rise of Christian anti-semitism (it didn’t exist before Christianity). But you might try Rosemary Ruether’s classic, Faith and Fratricide.

  3. pdahl  August 16, 2014

    Toward the end of your most candid FFRF lecture you mentioned some very smart people close to you who I presume are well aware of all the historical points you made in *How Jesus Became God* and yet still consider that Jesus indeed *was/is* God.

    I have three brief questions about this. 1. Do they understand your historical points about Jesus in HJBG but simply disagree with them or that these points bear upon Jesus’s divine status? 2. Or is that that they agree with your arguments but nonetheless still think Jesus was/is God, albeit for other reasons than those you address in the book? 3. Ultimately, then, why do these smart people close to you think that Jesus was/is God?

    Having read HJBG twice by now — and thanks so much for writing it, by the way — I was impressed by the sheer amount of logic, empiricism, and reason that underpins virtually all of your carefully crafted arguments. Others will no doubt rebut you based on their preference for advocating from tradition, authority, and/or dogma. And maybe therein lies at least a partial psychological answer to my own questions — namely, that for some people logic, empiricism, and reason simply trump tradition, authority, and dogma, whereas for others it’s just the other way around. Your thoughts?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 17, 2014

      They are theologically sophisticated people who realize that Jesus could be God even if he never said so and that this view was not recognized until later, long after his death. They think this not for historical reasons but for theological reasons, and argue that history is not hte only (or even the best) gateway to truth. On that I agree with them.

      • Rosekeister
        Rosekeister  August 17, 2014

        A good post or even series of posts would be on how extremely intelligent, highly educated, theologically sophisticated people define God and in what way Jesus could be this God.

      • prestonp  September 10, 2014

        “Others will no doubt rebut you based on their preference for advocating from tradition, authority, and/or dogma.”

        Others use reason, science, history, common sense and written and natural revelation that has withstood every argument for thousands of years to come to grips with his divinity. Additionally, there isn’t one speck of proof that jesus wasn’t exactly who he said he was. Quite the contrary, all known evidence makes an air-tight case for his divinity.

        To attempt to reduce the reasons why people believe in him to “dogma, authority and tradition” is a clever? way to try to hide the contempt of the christhaters. It isn’t subtle but it is a popular way to convey the bias many anti-christians use to express and to justify their hatred.

        These “haters” will not say, “Christians are stupid, subservient idiots to believe that nonsense” on Dr. Bart’s blog.

        This won’t make it as a post for the reasons I just listed.

    • willow  August 19, 2014

      Thanks for asking the questions I hesitated to ask, pdahl!

  4. DonakdDHeacock  August 16, 2014

    What is your opinion of Robert Eisenman’s work on James.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 17, 2014

      Eisenman is very smart and he knows a lot of things. And I think he is dead wrong about James.

      • asjsdpjk  August 19, 2014

        It would be amazingly intrresting if you could elaborate on that some time!

      • DonakdDHeacock  August 24, 2014

        Thank you Bart I have written on one other occasion (About Barbara Thiering) Please give us a short sketch of Eisenman’s view of James and yours.

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  August 25, 2014

          OK, interesting idea. I’ll think about it!

          • ksutherland  August 28, 2014

            This would be very interesting! *toothy grin!*

  5. Rosekeister
    Rosekeister  August 16, 2014

    That was a stirring challange to the humanist associations near the end of your talk. It prompts me to ask if you think that the traditional view of religion is too small? That a religious worldview does not have to involve Jesus or the Buddha (or anyone else) as a founding figure, an institutional church, a set of required beliefs, faith in creeds or a belief in a personal (or impersonal) god. That a religious worldview could be more along the lines of taking personal responsibility for your choices and the way you live without the need for the reward of heaven or the pushment of hell. Having a blog to raise money for charity seems a religious choice in which views on faith and theism seem irrelevant.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 17, 2014

      Yes, defining religion is unbelievably difficult, as it turns out. Some undergraduate courses in colleges and universities spend an entire semester problematizing the term!

  6. Hana1080  August 16, 2014

    I’d like to clarify a point. Is then the mystical traditions (and for discussion I’ll isolate Vision although mysticism encompasses a broader range of sensory phenomena) including not only Christianity but Hinduism and Buddhism considered to be in fact only hallucinations?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 17, 2014

      No, there is a lot more to mysticism than that!

      • Hana1080  August 18, 2014

        Yes I think so too but as I haven’t read this book yet as I am engrossed in another one of yours at the moment, will wait to read and better understand why you think Christ’s appearance was hallucinations and not Vision?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  August 19, 2014

          Hallucinations are one kind of vision. (Visions can be things that are really there, or things not really there. If not really there, they are hallucinations.)

          • Hana1080  August 20, 2014

            Thank you. I agree with your definition … Visions are there 🙂 !! lol Succinct and to the point. Made me laugh. But you do not consider the appearance of the resurrected Christ a Vision? (I apologize if you do in your book as I haven’t read it yet .. working on another )

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  August 20, 2014

            Yes, it was a vision. But a non-veridical one, in my opinion (i.e., a hallucination).

          • Hana1080  August 22, 2014

            Well then I’m eager than to read this chapter and your working definitions and why the visions were non-verdical. Thank you.

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  August 23, 2014

            In my book I leave open the question of whether or not they were veridical. But as a non-believer, of course, I do not think they were veridical. Otherwise I would be a believer!

  7. gabilaranjeira  August 16, 2014

    Great talk, especially when you emphasize the role (or lack of) of religious and non-religious groups on social and humanitarian issues. This talk was a perfect combination of knowledge, tolerance and service to others. I’m a big fan of yours.

  8. toejam  August 17, 2014

    Good stuff. Have you ever had much of a chance to speak to Dan Barker in private? What are your thoughts on him? You two must have a lot in common – going from evangelical fundamentalists to world famous atheists. Though it seems both of you gone about responding to your deconversions in very different ways – Dan being more of an ‘active’ atheist, for lack of a better term.

  9. RonaldTaska  August 17, 2014

    I look forward to hearing the lecture. Thanks for sharing it. I think the problem comes for me when religion does harm such as with religious wars, or its push against gay marriage, or its opposition to the teaching of evolution, or its attitude against women leaders and clergy. So, don’t you think religion of that sort, even if it’s not fundamentalist, needs to be opposed?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 19, 2014

      No, I don’t think religion itself is to blame. People are. And people would find some other ideological reason to do evil things, if they couldn’t rely on religion to provide it….

  10. Hana1080  August 18, 2014

    In the video you said that Jesus becoming God was paramount to the spread of Christianity and I’ve been thinking about this and wondering why was IT necessary? You said that Christianity would not have spread but would have remained a Jewish sect without this Interpretation? But why? I don’t grasp the collective importance. In the church I attended in my youth, Jesus was not thought of as God … but again as I am fairly new at reading in depth maybe I should be doing more of my own homework before taking your time?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 19, 2014

      Because Gentiles were not about to convert to become Jewish, and if Christianity remained a Jewish sect, that’s what Gentiles would have had to do..

      • Hana1080  August 20, 2014

        Without my being too tedious, so the Gentiles would have had to make Jesus a God in order to remove him from the Jewish religion and establish Jesus as their own? Reflecting last night on what I’ve been reading on your site, for me what I read is both highly emotional as well as intellectual. Emotional because although I’ve read a couple of your books before, they never struck home as they are now turning in my mind Christianity upside down. Can’t wait to discuss these points with my beloved Godmother who is a Trappist abbess. 🙂

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  August 20, 2014

          Not exactly. There were also Jews who understood Jesus to be God. But if Christianity stayed a sect within Judaism, then becoming Christian would involve becoming Jewish, and all that might entail (typically: circumcision; sabbath observance; kosher food laws; festivals; and so on), and most pagans simply didn’t want to go there.

  11. Hana1080  August 18, 2014

    I’m almost afraid to ask this question and possibly it should not be published respectfully .. how much of a jump then is it then that the Nazis exploited the Christian founded racism and therefore in some fundamental degree Christianity also shares responsibility? Why am I afraid to ask the question ? .. because I am extremely careful when combining the word Nazi with anything.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 19, 2014

      My view is that modern forms of anti-semitism are unthinkable without an entire history of anti-Judaism from early modernity, back to the Middle Ages, and back to Late Antiquity. And anti-Judaism in Late Antiquity is unthinkable without the rise of Christianity.

      • Hana1080  August 20, 2014

        Gasp … That’s a lot of blood on “ones” collective heads. (My belief system includes philosophical concepts of karma)

      • prestonp  August 23, 2014

        ” And anti-Judaism in Late Antiquity is unthinkable without the rise of Christianity.”

        Specifically, whose christianity do you refer?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  August 23, 2014

          The world’s.

          • prestonp  August 23, 2014

            Often, the distinction between institutions that use words and phrases of a religious nature, that have nothing to do with following Christ, and those who follow him in loving devotion, is ignored. Sometimes intentionally, critics will combine them under one heading, christianity. It smears those who honor him with ugly, egregious behavior and attitudes without merit as It exalts institutions bloodied in chains of history as ambassadors of god somehow, when he had nothing to do with them.

            The white man should know better by now. We have lived through our black brothers and sisters valiant struggle to shed similar kinds of stigmas.

          • prestonp  August 25, 2014

            You, too, when you were a christian, supported anti-Semitism? Did that have anything to do with your religious experience or was it promulgated by any of your brothers and sisters in the Lord? Rhetorical. No need to answer.

  12. shakespeare66  August 18, 2014

    I especially liked the fact that you asked the FFRF to make a “name” for itself by doing what Christian groups do—help other people. I have also taken the position to my friends that religion does a lot of good for people, and religion does a lot of good for people and so I do not condemn it. I just think that those who condemn it must at least offer some concomitant help for those less fortunate in the world. I love that idea, and it makes perfect sense–one has to replace the “old” group with a new “group” that has some purpose. I hope you get my drift. This was an excellent talk and a great presentation of your beliefs and your work When Jesus Became God.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 19, 2014

      Thanks. I’m not sure everyone there appreciated that point all that much! 🙂

      • toejam  August 22, 2014

        My concern with this is that most agnostics/atheists don’t advertise their philanthropy/charity *in the name of* agnosticism/atheism. I’ve always found it odd when people do that. There are plenty of secular charity organisations who do good for good’s sake – not in the name of “atheism” or “anti religion”. Those are the organisations that I donate towards. The FFRF’s goals are to help maintain the separation of church and state, offer support for those who have left their faith, and to help expose the superstitions of some of the world’s religions. Those are worthy goals – The FFRF should not be expected to “compete” with religious aid for the purpose of winning over converts. That to me would be just as sus as when religions do aid in order to win over converts.

        • prestonp  August 25, 2014

          “My concern with this is that most agnostics/atheists don’t advertise their philanthropy/charity *in the name of* agnosticism/atheism.”

          How would you know whether agnostics/atheists participate in philanthropy/charity?

  13. Wilusa  August 18, 2014

    “I am personally not opposed to religion or people who practice it (although I *am* quite definitely opposed to fundamenalist kinds of religion — whether Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or whatever).”

    I have a bit of a problem with this. As I see it, given my personal views, the most “liberal” form of religion is just as *wrong* as “fundamentalist” forms. So why “oppose” one and not the other? Personally, I don’t “oppose” either. Some people holding fundamentalist views seem to derive great comfort from their faith.

    Of course, there can be problems with the definition of “fundamentalist.” I *do* oppose those who seek to force their religious views on others, or prevent people “born into” their faith from leaving it.

    And I’m very uncomfortable with religions being allowed to have *schools* . How can people have “freedom of religion” if they’re indoctrinated almost from the cradle? I wish all our youth were in public schools, with the churches being allowed no more than “Sunday school” or its equivalent. I endured many years of Catholic schooling, and eventually became an agnostic – the thing I’m proudest of in my life. But should it be necessary for individuals to resist indoctrination? I truly don’t know.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 19, 2014

      I don’t think we should oppose views because they are *wrong*. If they are wrong, we simply should not adhere to them. But we should oppose views that are *dangerous*. Liberal religion is very rarely dangerous. Love one another; live and let live; be kind to strangers; do good to all. Liberal religion teaches such things, and even though I don’t agree with the religious views themselves, I agree with the ethical results.

      • Wilusa  August 20, 2014

        As I said, I don’t oppose religions because I believe they’re wrong (wrong *intellectually*). Like you, I would only actively oppose those that are *dangerous*.

        I think where we differ is on the definition of fundamentalism. For most of my life, I would have defined a “fundamentalist” as a person who, if asked, would say he or she believed literally in the Biblical account of creation. (And probably, would say offhand that he or she believed everything in the Bible was true.) That’s it! If they were Catholic, it was likely that (a) they’d never *read* the Bible, and (b) those “beliefs” didn’t impact their *lives* at all.

        And I would have thought of active, *aggressive* fundamentalists as being obsessed with denying evolution.

        I do have that concern about religious schools…indoctrination. I really don’t know where the line should be drawn -the distinction between being free to practice the religion of your choice, and being free to indoctrinate children by telling them they already *are*, from birth, Catholics or whatever.

        • prestonp  August 25, 2014

          I do have that concern about anti-religious schools…indoctrination. I really don’t know where the line should be drawn. The state of our public schools is appalling. Metal detectors will be mandatory, not just in our inner cities like philadelphia, but across the nation, imo.

    • prestonp  August 25, 2014

      And I’m very uncomfortable with anti-religious groups being allowed to have *schools*. How can people have the right to worship freely if the government interferes with that constitutionally protected right?

  14. shakespeare66  August 19, 2014

    While watching the question and answer session, I noticed that the person who asked about the existence of Christ did not believe what you said even after putting the “world” of scholarship behind it ( your book Did Jesus Exist? and other scholars work). I assume that because you apologized by saying “I sympathize with your view, but…” This led me to think that these mythicists are doing the same thing as what fundamentalists do in the face of overwhelming evidence–they just don’t believe it. It is ironic that they do what they protest against. I suppose all you can do is to present what you know, and let the chips fall where they may. I am often stunned by how flippant fundamentalists are about the work of a scholar ( as my fundamentalist preacher “friend” casts you off like you are nobody). I said “How can you think that you know more or better than a man who has spent his life working on these issues?” She said, “I studied at Princeton Theological Seminary!” I said “Really? and you think you know as much as he does?” It was a circular discussion, and I quickly decided that we would no longer engage in any discussion about religion. She is certainly not open to it. So how do you continue to go on in the face of this kind of opposition?

    • prestonp  August 25, 2014

      “I am often stunned by how flippant fundamentalists are about the work of a scholar…”

      Christians, too, are often stunned at deniers’ willingness to ignore overwhelming evidence that jesus is Christ.

      • shakespeare66  August 25, 2014

        Jesus is Christ? What does that mean? What Christians lack (too often) is a willingness to investigate the knowledge that is out there about a variety of things. How stunning is it that 64% of Christians in this country deny evolution? I think that is beyond stunning. It is mind boggling. Try reading Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution is True. Oh, I’m sorry. People like you don’t read stuff like that because you can find all the answers in the Bible so you don’t need to read anything else. And even if you DID read it, you would still deny it it true and say it is a hoax or a conspiracy or some such nonsense. It is OKAY for you to live in your fantasy world. We don’t begrudge you living there, but please son’t step on my understanding of the world, of Jesus Christ, of evolution, of being gay, of anything that your “perfect” little moral Bible tells you is right about proper decorum for the world. Christians should be stunned at how flippant we can be about the life of Christ. I have read the 15 or so books that Dr. Ehrman has written on the subject because I wanted to know what scholars are saying about this subject. No one wants to take away your belief or your faith. Just leave those who don’t care for it alone. Instead of quoting me, ask a pertinent question—you might learn something for once in your life.

      • shakespeare66  November 3, 2014

        There is no overwhelming evidence.

    • prestonp  November 1, 2014

      “This led me to think that these mythicists are doing the same thing as what fundamentalists do in the face of overwhelming evidence–they just don’t believe it.” Shake

      There is no evidence that proves what you say. None.

      • shakespeare66  November 3, 2014

        Why is there a large group of mythicists? The facts are all over the intrrnet!

  15. Steefen  August 19, 2014

    Sorry, I’m 7 minutes into this and my orientation is yelling a big grumble. My Ancient Roman orientation is the Roman imposition that you bless the state, you bless the emperor. You express goodwill and cooperation to the state and you express goodwill and cooperation to the emperor. Why? Because a state is a fragile thing. The Republic fell. The Empire rose. Emperors were assassinated, went crazy, etc. The Empire fell.

    So, it’s like you’re jumping to an irresponsible conclusion.

    Bart Ehrman:
    Freedom from religion does not mean opposing religion.
    Freedom from religion means opposing the imposition of someone else’s religion on us.

    StephenOABC:
    But, we do not have Julius Caesar’s nephew in D.C. We do not have a fallen Republic raised to greatness by Augustus; Augustus who set the direction for the Roman Empire’s imperial cult, and as a result, Rome arguably was not a secular state.

    Before I agree with you, the question must be posed: would you have wanted freedom from religion in the religious pluralism of Ancient Roman territory first century B.C.E. and first century C.E., Judea or anywhere else?

    Was Rome a good influence, religiously, upon the areas it influenced?
    Do you disagree with Paul, Dr. Ehrman?

    Judaism did offer sacrifices for the emperor. When it stopped, the Jewish Revolt was on.

    So, you’re a proponent of religious isolationism–putting religion in a closet, a bathroom, closed-door activity? Once people get together and really talk this through, we can agree on the lowest common denominators:

    God is impersonal therefore persons need not interact with an impersonal God.
    Problem: people will awe at the Grand Canyon, an impersonal object.

    God is the Sun and the operation of its Solar System, provider of day and night. The Sun grounds us–keeping us from floating out into the Milky Way.

    Some will say, this sets us back to Constantine’s pre-Christian Sol Invictus and possibly to Akhen-aten’s Power behind the Sun.

    God is Authority and the ideal of Good Authority is partially how God gets personified.
    Problem: assigning the attribute of authority to God is not a lowest common denominator of God. Authority is subject to interpretation.

    In conclusion, if one takes the stance of Augustus, Tiberius, Nero, Vespasian, Titus, Domitian, does your case really hold up against these? Would you be a Jewish zealot, rebel/bandit on this issue?

    After applying your answer to the times of the emperors, we can see if your answer can apply to our current case.

    Thank you.

    • Steefen  August 21, 2014

      Finished watching.

      Jesus is God in the gospel of John, not so much in the Synoptics was thought-provoking. It, to me, shows a contradiction in the New Testament.

      I would go further and say Jesus is not so much God in the Acts of the Apostles.

      As you mentioned months ago, Jesus becomes God in the works of Paul.

      “A religion needs a god: Jesus had to become God.” This helps separate Christianity from Judaism.

      For Jesus to have existed with God, one should ask where was Jesus when God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac.

      Sorry, I don’t see Jesus as God. Jesus may be a third of a trinity, Jesus may be Lord, with authority over some areas. Jesus is a little light on his Heavenly Father being the Creator. His Father-God is a personification of “Life will work out, so, don’t concern yourself with what will you wear, what will you eat, you have enough problems for today.” Yes, the Earth was a place of abundant resources. When famine came to Judea, Prince-to-King Izates and Queen Helena fed the people, don’t worry. (We can say Prince and King Izates because he was a king of a small kingdom.) Yes, I can hear King Izates-Jesus speaking to the people as he fed them.

      You can say Jesus became God but what was the quality of that notion of God? What is the quality of the claim? Jesus could have talked Adam & Eve out of the Fall. All Jesus had to do was tell Adam and Eve to say, “Get behind me Satan” (and, “I’m not yielding to your temptation” or “lead us, Adam & Eve, not into temptation.”

      So, you’ve helped me see a major flaw in the Gospel of John.

      • prestonp  August 23, 2014

        “A religion needs a god: Jesus had to become God.” This helps separate Christianity from Judaism.

        Did jesus indicate he needed a religion?

        “For Jesus to have existed with God, one should ask where was Jesus when God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac.”

        Why?

        “His Father-God is a personification of ‘Life will work out, so, don’t concern yourself with what will you wear, what will you eat, you have enough problems for today.’”

        Do you see a problem?

        • Steefen  August 25, 2014

          Did Jesus indicate he needed a new religion? It seems he indicated it to Paul and he indicated it to James who allowed Gentiles some leeway with respect to religious customs of Judaism.

          It’s almost irrelevant whether or not Jesus indicated he needed a religion.

          1) Remember or read The Grand Inquisitor by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

          2) Jesus’ own succession plan failed. He did not need a religion if the Jewish people would have supported him in the first incarnation/coronation as Son of Man of the Kingdom of Heaven/Righteousness with Star Prophecy as harbinger. So, Titus fulfilled the prophecies of the Son of Man, then, he became Emperor, and you might as well say when he died, he was deified like his father and now sits at the right hand of his deified father, Vespasian.

          The irrelevancy. If Jesus’s Son of Man movement had succeeded, there would have been no need for him to start a new religion because Judaism would have been fulfilled and victorious. People would have come. Judaism would have grown had it delivered on Jesus’ promise of a kingdom of righteousness.

          “For Jesus to have existed with God, one should ask where was Jesus when God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac.” Why?

          John 8:58 (Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.)

          Well, either Jesus would have allowed God’s will to be done and he could find another garden where he could agonize over this or his “Good Father” notion of God would have created a different test of Abraham’s loyalty.

          according to Rabbi Joseph H. Hertz (Chief Rabbi of the British Empire), child sacrifice was actually “rife among the Semitic peoples,” and suggests that “in that age, it was astounding that Abraham’s God should have interposed to prevent the sacrifice, not that He should have asked for it.” Hertz interprets the Akedah as demonstrating to the Jews that human sacrifice is abhorrent. “Unlike the cruel heathen deities, it was the spiritual surrender alone that God required.” In Jeremiah 32:35, God states that the later Israelite practice of child sacrifice to the deity Molech “had [never] entered My mind that they should do this abomination.” – Binding of Isaac in Wikipedia

          Hm, It’s certainly in Genesis. God denies?! in Jeremiah. It comes back to mind in the first century with the Father and Son of the gospels–the Father not taking away this cup from Jesus. It also comes back when God allows the food supply for Jews to be destroyed during the Jewish Revolt and some of the people started eating any and everything, including the food of cannibalism (see Cannibal Mary, an account in Josephus’ Wars of the Jews).

          prestonp asked do I see a problem with this: “His Father-God is a personification of ‘Life will work out, so, don’t concern yourself with what will you wear, what will you eat, you have enough problems for today.’” Yes, prestonp, I see a problem: Some people who follow this become victims and they do not rise to the top to enforce this idyll for all.

          • prestonp  August 25, 2014

            Whom was he addressing?

          • prestonp  August 31, 2014

            “Jesus’ own succession plan failed”

            How? What was his succession plan, exactly?

          • prestonp  September 11, 2014

            “I see a problem: Some people who follow this become victims and they do not rise to the top to enforce this idyll for all.”

            Who specifically?

          • prestonp  September 11, 2014

            “prestonp asked do I see a problem with this: “His Father-God is a personification of ‘Life will work out, so, don’t concern yourself with what will you wear, what will you eat, you have enough problems for today”

            Who said that?

  16. Macavity  August 20, 2014

    Thanks for posting this lecture. I found it to be possibly the most valuable and interesting of all your lectures/debates I’ve watched.

    However, I was surprised to hear you say (41 min): “They ended up with the idea that there are three distinct beings all three of whom are fully God – they’re distinct from one another, they’re all fully God, they’re all equally God – but there is only one God. That’s the doctrine of the trinity, that’s there’s one God manifest in three persons. And it doesn’t make sense rationally and it’s not meant to make sense rationally.”

    If I understand you correctly you are saying that the doctrine of the trinity says there are three beings all of whom are God and that God is only one being. So, God is one being and God is not one being which obviously is a contradiction.

    I thought the classical (4th and 5th century church fathers) definition of the doctrine of the Trinity goes something like this: God is of one essence (being), God is a plurality of persons (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) and the words being and person do not denote the same thing. That statement is not a logical contradiction. Of course, just because a statement isn’t logically contradictory doesn’t make it true.

    Wouldn’t it be simpler and less controversial just to say that you know of no compelling evidence to believe that the doctrine of the Trinity is true and leave it at that—rather than creating a paradoxical/nonclassical version of the doctrine of the Trinity and concluding that it is not worthy of belief by a rational person because it is self-contradictory?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 20, 2014

      Yes, your understanding of the classical definition is how I understand it too. But it still defies rational understanding, even if it is not irrational. (What defies understanding is how the three can be one and yet three; I do understand: three in person, one in essence. But figuring out how that can be, without sacrificing either the unity or the plurality is, in my judgment, beyond rational sense. I’m not saying it’s wrong — the properties of light are beyond rational sense as well)

      • prestonp  August 23, 2014

        “Albert Einstein once told a friend that quantum mechanics doesn’t hold water in his scientific world view because “physics should represent a reality in time and space, free from spooky actions at a distance.” That spooky action at a distance is ENTANGLEMENT, a quantum phenomenon in which two particles, separated by ANY amount of distance, can instantaneously affect one another as if part of a unified system.

        Now, scientists have successfully hijacked that quantum weirdness — doing so reliably for the first time — to produce what many sci-fi fans have long dreamt up: teleportation…”

        Nick Statt

        Sorry for posting too much. You are at fault. You are too interesting! (Will be finished in just a few more days. Hang in there.)

  17. Lostallfaith  August 24, 2014

    Thank you very much for posting your lecture. Your words are so important to me as I have lost my 22 year old son to a very religious, Christian Fundamentalist Cult in Texas last Dec. I have read all your books and others, studied the historical Jesus and how the Bible became Holy and now am an agnostic. My husband, went the other path, becoming religious (we did not even attend church prior), seeking solace and understanding from the very book (Bible) that destroyed our son. We are now completely at odds. And so when I heard you say your wife was Christian, I had a brief moment of hope that my spouse and I could somehow come together in our sorrow under no religious doctrine. Religion has destroyed my family and yet I am trying to “compromise” and attend church, go through the motions yet I feel like an imposter. Our son no longer is allowed contact with us as we are “apostate” and this was even before I lost my faith…..how do you have a relationship with your spouse when you don’t believe the same things anymore….thank you for all your help in this time of despair.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 25, 2014

      My wife and I have never believed the same things! But for neither of us is it a matter of eternal moment. It’s simply a disagreement in things we both find important — and so we work for mutual respect.

    • prestonp  August 25, 2014

      “Our son no longer is allowed contact with us as we are “apostate”…”lost”

      He’s an adult. If he wishes to speak to you, he can. If he’s prevented from doing so, he’s been kidnapped. He isn’t permitted to speak to his believing father, either, because he too is apostate?

      What denomination is this? Would you like someone to try to talk to him or to those in charge?

  18. prestonp  August 25, 2014

    “Did Jesus indicate he needed a new religion? It seems he indicated it to Paul and he indicated it to James who allowed Gentiles some leeway with respect to religious customs of Judaism.” steefen

    Jesus existed? If so, he was history when paul came along, wasn’t he?

    “For Jesus to have existed with God, one should ask where was Jesus when God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac.”steefen

    “Why?” Where was jesus and what difference does it make?

    • Steefen  August 27, 2014

      prestonp: Jesus existed?

      Steefen: They certainly did. Jesus is a number of historical persons crafted with much care into a biblical Jesus–even the Homeric Epics were used to craft the Biblical Jesus.

      Bart Ehrman says there are multiple attestations of Jesus.

      One of the leading Jesuses of the historical Jesus group is King Izates who:

      1) was an “only begotten son”
      2) fed 5,000 a number of times during the famine of approximately 47 B.C.E.
      3) had a royal blood line who wore crows of thorns
      4) had a father who appears in the teachings of Jesus, Matthew 6: 19-20 (See: The Greatest Bible Study in Historical Accuracy: Insights on the Exodus, King David, the 23rd Psalm, Jesus and Paul, 1st Edition, by Steefen, ps 126-128.)

      So, you are in error when you write: “He was history when Paul came along, wasn’t he?”

  19. Steefen  August 27, 2014

    prestonp, I forgot to put an important reason for putting King Izates at the top of the historical Jesuses list; so point 3 becomes 3a and the reason I’m adding to make the list complete is 3b below. I’m also adding an additional reason, 3c.

    1) was an “only begotten son”
    2) fed 5,000 a number of times during the famine of approximately 47 B.C.E.

    3a) had a royal blood line who wore crowns of thorns
    3b) some of the kings wearing crowns of thorns had the name Manu.

    Jesus is Em-manu-el which seems to mean With the Manu line of kings–who converted to Judaism with Queen Helena and following the example of Queen Helena and King Izates–is God. It does not mean With Us is God.

    3c) in my book, I make an issue about Jesus grilling the pharisees: Is it not written in YOUR law… as opposed to, Is it not written in OUR law. For me, Jesus is phrasing as Queen Helena or King Izates would question a Jewish authority. We are not Jews, we are proselytes. For me, it is also Roman writers of a pro-Roman composite Jesus questioning Judaism. More important and very important: Queen Helena’s palace would seem to obligate her and sons to have some sort of understanding with Rome when it came to paying taxes. So, when Jesus is questioned by enemies trying to entrap him to tell Jews not to pay taxes to Caesar, the Queen Helena royal family would have a politically correct response. Queen Helena (see http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/helene-queen-of-adiabene) had to co-exist under Roman authority of the region. Did her family get a tax break for the famine relief that year? It probably could have been negotiated or could have been an item to hold against the Romans; for, we know her family tree fought against the Romans during the Jewish Revolt.

    Mark 8: 18 “Having eyes, see ye not? and having ears, hear ye not? …”

    4) had a father who appears in the teachings of Jesus, Matthew 6: 19-20 (See: The Greatest Bible Study in Historical Accuracy: Insights on the Exodus, King David, the 23rd Psalm, Jesus and Paul, 1st Edition, by Steefen, ps 126-128.)

    Matthew 6: 19-21 Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20“But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; 21for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

  20. prestonp  August 29, 2014

    Most everyone agrees that there are huge differences between religion and spirituality. Anyone can claim to be speaking for god or jesus and many have. They do so in vain. They use his name to do all kinds of good and evil things and they are con-artists. Focusing on them or their institutions/churches is a choice and many choose it. Some are sure that that god and their words and actions are one. Some enjoy that perspective because it offers justification not to concentrate on the divine.

    This guy jesus is quoted as saying that god is spirit. He supposedly added, if anybody wants to hang out with this spirit, it is accomplished through spirit. The guy who was rescued at the last split second? wasn’t baptized, did no good works, didn’t repent of anything, never tithed, never quit drinking or lusting after babes. He did express a thought: He don’t deserve this. We do. He don’t.

    Instead of being “biblically correct”, jesus made a bizarre statement. Pal, this very day you and I will hang out in heaven together. (Wasn’t he supposed to wait a few days?) Some kind of connection sparked between them, spirit to spirit.

    • Steefen  August 31, 2014

      prestonp: He did express a thought: “He don’t deserve this. We do. He don’t.” Instead of being “biblically correct”, Jesus made a bizarre statement. Pal, this very day you and I will hang out in heaven together. (Wasn’t he supposed to wait a few days?) Some kind of connection sparked between them, spirit to spirit.

      Steefen: You’re missing important ingredients. It wasn’t just that he thought Jesus did not deserve to be crucified but also: 1) he had a fear of God when he asks the other crucified man, “Don’t you even fear God?” 2) he told Jesus he had faith in Jesus’s kingdom. Jesus appreciated that. That was the connection sparked, spirit to spirit.

      • prestonp  September 1, 2014

        And, he wasn’t a fundamentalist, or a literalist, or an expert on new testament inerrancy or dispensationalism. He wasn’t a Baptist, or rich or poor, literate, free or a slave, wasn’t cleansed from his sinful nature, didn’t speak in tongues, couldn’t define the trinity, Christ didn’t take him down miraculously, but he experienced the exact same “born from above” relationship as Dr. Bart from what I can tell.

        • prestonp  September 2, 2014

          So, what exactly did he “do” to become qualified to go to heaven? That very day, Christ promised, the two of them would be together in heaven. Where in the new testament does it say he gets to go to heaven? It wasn’t written at that point.

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