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Hard Times and Using the Blog for Charity

Some people – maybe a lot of people – don’t think it’s the right time for a good sense of humor.  I have the opposite view.  I think very hard times are the best times.  But I’ll never be as good at it as my dad.

When he was on his death bed in 1989, cancer metastasized flippin’ everywhere, he could barely get out of bed.  I was with him in the hospital.  He needed to use the toilet and insisted on going to it (instead of taking the obvious hospital option).  It took him about 10 minutes to sit up and get his feet on the floor (I remember it as 20 minutes but think now my mind must have exaggerated it).  The nurse was beside the bed, helping him with every incremental movement.  When after much moaning and groaning he finally got to his feet, facing her, he collapsed onto her shoulders with his arms outstretched.

And said: “I’ve been waiting all day for this.”

Ha!  She laughed and said, I love you too.

So we are in hard times now.  Even though a good sense of humor is important, it’s obviously not funny.  It’s incredibly serious and frightening.  And obviously life changing.  I’ve moved to shelter-in-place, voluntarily, as I imagine many of you have as well.   My biggest concern is for the people who are losing their jobs, have no source of income, no savings, no backup plan, and often no family support.   Things are dire and they will get worse before they get better, whenever that might be.

Those of us not personally in tragic situations obviously need to do what we can to help those who are.  Or even to help those who are not in complete desperation but could use a pick up.

I have decided for now to continue with the blog as always.  Maybe it’s a relief to some people to read something other than the newest reports from around the world, around the country, around the state, around town, updated every minute.   And so I will keep posting on the New Testament and Early Christianity, not because it is the one thing we are all obsessing about right now, but because it seems to be the right and good thing to do.

There are two ways you can yourself use the blog as a tool to do good.  I am not proposing these out of self-interest.  I make NOTHING on the blog and even though I am massively committed to it and see it as a great good, my own professional and personal life would be much easier without it.  But there are ways the good it does could do more good.  As you will see from a post earlier today, I have extended the offer for more free memberships to those who cannot afford them.  There’s not a whole lot more I can do, at least that I can think of.  But there are a couple of things you could do:

  • There are more and more people who have more free time on their hands now. You know some of these people.  Consider giving them a Gift Subscription to the Blog.  It’s easy to do: just log into the blog and hit “Gift Subscriptions” and go from there.  This function is not utilized nearly as much as I have always hoped.  Now would be a good time: family member, friend, acquaintance, someone who once upon a time (say, a week ago) you used to see face to face.   This will give them another avenue to pursue in downtime and it will grow the blog.  And why does that matter?  Because every penny goes to charity, and the charities desperately need the funds.  Everyone wins.
  • Consider making a donation to the blog. Here’s how I look at it.  If you give to the blog, the money goes directly to charities dealing with people in desperate need.  You could obviously give directly to the charities themselves.   They would get the same amount of money in either case.  But by giving to the blog, you make the blog grow; as the blog grows it attracts more attention; as it attracts more attention, it attracts more members; the vast majority of members have joined not because they want to give to charity but because they want to learn about the topics covered on the blog.   Their membership fee *goes* to charity but they aren’t joining in *order* to give to charity.  That means charities get moneys they otherwise wouldn’t be getting.  So it’s not a zero-sum game.  The moneys coming into the blog, in the vast majority of instances, are not money that would have gone to charity anyway.  So it advances the causes of the charities without taking anything away from them.  If the blog grows BIG-TIME the charities gain more and more.  And to do that, it needs more public attention.  If it’s bigger it will do so.  And it will then attract yet more members.  And so it goes.


So think about it.  If you’re not inclined, AOK!  The main function between the blog and you is for us to provide the information and insights about the New Testament and Early Christianity you are most interested in.   The secondary function is to help those in need.  This is a good time to emphasize the second function.  But we each do what we can!  To donate, just log in and hit the DONATE tab, and go from there.

Many thanks for being involved with the blog.  Spread the word.  Keep safe.  And do try to keep a good sense of humor in our very hard moment.

Fresh Air Interview for Heaven and Hell: Airing Tuesday!
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  1. Avatar
    jeffmd90  March 20, 2020

    And you keep safe as well. It looks like with this shutdown I will be a home for a while. Plenty of time to watch your lectures on The Great Courses and listen to your books on Audible.

  2. Avatar
    Judith  March 20, 2020

    To laugh this morning is especially good after just learning the national guard is on the alert (to keep everyone in place?) and reading all the dire news. I thank you for sharing the story, Dr. Ehrman.

  3. Avatar
    rivercrowman  March 20, 2020

    Love his sense of humor. And it’s part of your inheritance.

  4. Lev
    Lev  March 20, 2020

    As a plucky Brit armed with a cup of tea and channeling the spirit of the blitz – I agree now is the time where a good sense of humour is needed. It really helps build mental and emotional resilience.

    Thank you for posting this uplifting message, continuing with your blog (a welcome alternative to the doom on the telly) and for what you’re doing for the most vulnerable. Your blog is highly valued by this reader.

  5. Avatar
    dankoh  March 20, 2020

    Take the Jewish approach: We’ve been laughing at disasters forever (or at least it seems like it). Without Jewish humor, we’d have died out a long time ago! Example: here is a joke currently going around Israel:

    “Almost the entire country is in quarantine. Who do you think will be busier in nine months? Midwives or divorce lawyers?”

  6. Avatar
    fishician  March 20, 2020

    I’m going to post on Facebook that if any of my acquaintances want to join I’ll cover the cost.

  7. Avatar
    clerrance2005  March 21, 2020

    A very commendable work, Prof Ehrman. The least we can all do to help is to use our talents just like Prof Ehrman is doing with this platform to create a better world for the hopeless, depressed, destitute and afflicted even in these trying times. Most importatantly, using our gifts/talent/resource for the service of humanity. That is my definition of what true religion is – ‘Service to mankind is service to God’.

    Proud to be part of this initiative – A world in which everybody wins.

  8. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  March 21, 2020

    You are a good man my friend and it sounds like your Dad was as well. It reminds me of my Dad at the end when he had not spoken for days and a strange preacher came in and prayed a very long prayer that went on and on and finally my Dad interrupted saying “Amen! Amen! Amen!” Those were the last words he ever spoke. I think it was his sense of humor implying that the prayer had been way too long, which it was.

  9. sschullery
    sschullery  March 21, 2020

    I’ve tried a few times to do a gift subscription but I’ve yet to discover the button before the urge passes. It needs to be more prominent.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 22, 2020

      Maybe as administrator I’m seeing a different landing page from you. THe DONATE and GIFT SUBSCRIPTION box is right there — but you’re right, you do have to scroll down off the first page. We’re fixing that in the new rebuild

      • NulliusInVerba
        NulliusInVerba  March 22, 2020

        The user may need to change the Zoom setting +/- in her/his browser.

      • sschullery
        sschullery  March 23, 2020

        Found it!

        PErhaps if it had been under the MEMBERSHIP tab, I would haave found it easier.

  10. Avatar
    Lopaka  March 21, 2020

    How aware do you think Paul was of Jesus’ teachings, i.e. the sheep and goats-type stuff?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 22, 2020

      Judging from how remarkably little he actually appeals to Jesus’ teachings, I’d say he doesn’t seem much aware at all. I’ve posted on this before, under something like How Much Did Paul Know about the Historical Jesus?

      • Avatar
        Lopaka  March 22, 2020

        Great thanks!

      • Avatar
        Chad Stuart  March 24, 2020

        Thanks, I’ll check it out.

        I was trying to find that out because I couldn’t find anything Paul wrote about that happened before the Lord’s Supper.

        Also, from a purely selfish POV, please don’t leave the house until this is over!

        • Bart
          Bart  March 24, 2020

          I’m in solitary (well, dualitary?) confinement for the duration…. You too I hope!

  11. Avatar
    darren  March 22, 2020

    I appreciate you maintaining the blog while the globe is under quarantine! I haven’t had this much time to read and reflect on ideas since I don\t know when. I’ve been watching Diarmaid MacCulloch’s series A History of Christianity, and he makes a point about the church and I would love to hear your thoughts about it. He argues Hitler was able to murder so many people largely because of the myths surrounding Jews — they killed Christ, secretly run the world, etc. — generated by Christianity over the centuries — and ones the church failed to address. The series is a decade old, but it struck me when MacCulloch said German politicians used belief in these destructive myths to dehumanize whole sections of the population. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 22, 2020

      Yes, it’s an absolute reality. That’s what I wanted my next book to be about, how *Christian* opposition to Jews is what led to the horribly history of anti-Semitism, down to modernity. But my publisher decided it wasn’t probably that would sell hugely. As one person involved put it: Jews today already know this and Christians don’t want to hear it. So who’s gonna buy the book?

      • Avatar
        darren  March 22, 2020

        Fair enough. Though it feels likes it would be a really important book for the historical record, to tell the ugly story — even if it doesn’t sell. I don’t know publishing, but I know journalism. And a book on that topic would attract tonnes and tonnes of media interest.

        • sschullery
          sschullery  March 23, 2020

          I agree. Why, there might even be a book signing in it for you!

      • Avatar
        Chad Stuart  March 24, 2020

        Your books got me interested in the subject of anti-Semitism prior to Christianity. Greek and Roman persecution appears to be been religious rather than ethnically based, similar to how early Christians (Jewish or non-Jewish) were treated.

        Do you know of any books that cover the subject?

        • Bart
          Bart  March 24, 2020

          Good place to start, James Carroll, Constantine’s Sword, which covers teh whole history, including a very nice sketch of the early period. . But if you’re interested specifically about early Christianity, a classic is Rosemary Ruether, Faith adn Fratricide. Terrific.

          • Avatar
            Chad Stuart  March 29, 2020

            Thank you. Can’t wait to read them after I read this great book that’s coming out on Tuesday!

  12. Avatar
    jcalloway  March 23, 2020

    Thanks for the words of encouragement and reminder to keep humor handy 🙂 I have really enjoyed reading yours books and growing into a ‘healthy’ individual…

  13. Avatar
    Monarch  March 27, 2020

    Hi Bart,
    Have you considered a dedicated section, or at least publicly posting updates on how the blog is doing financially, in actual monetary terms? I used to donate $20 monthly but eventually got away from it as 1.) I don’t visit the blog very often, 2.) I already support my local food banks and homeless shelters, and 3.) I had no idea how effective the blog was monetarily and how that impact was distributed percentage-wise among which charities. While I’m not wealthy, I do contribute regularly to numerous charities, from sponsoring a child through World Vision, to multiple environmental and political organizations. Doctors Without Borders? I’m all in. YOUR local food bank? Maybe not so much. Being able to see our collective impact as an online community–and where our money is going–might help inspire me and others to try to contribute more. Thanks.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 27, 2020

      All I do normally is indicate how much money goes in each year — this year it will be over $180,000 — and which charities it all goes to. I do not have a fixed formula for the latter. Probably half goes to my local charity (an unusually amazing one, from a national perspecive) dealing with hunger and homelessness in the community (Urban Ministries of Durham — where “ministries” is not meant in a religious sense); the rest gets divided up between the Food Bank of Eastern NC; Doctors without Borders; CARE; and, at a lesser level, the Durham Literacy Center (also dealing with poverty, but in a different way). I do periodically talk about these charities on the blog. And since I’m concerned with the needy *everywhere* I am completely sympathteic with those who want to focus on their own localities. My only argument for giving to the blog instead of privately is that if we could grow the blog into a recognizable “phenomenon” it would attract more members who would pay membership fees and grow it more and more, and the vast majority of the revenues would be ones otherwise not going to charity. So by donating to the blog, it’s almost like a challenge grant. But again, I’m happy for people to donate as they see fit.

      • Avatar
        Monarch  March 28, 2020

        Hi Bart, thanks for the answer. (I changed my gravatar to my car for another site, by the way.) Wow, $180,000, you are certainly doing your part! After I posted my comment I felt bad for saying that “YOUR local food bank” was not necessarily a priority for me. I thought, “You know, Bart is an asset to HIS community, he is 100% correct to help his own community, and to make as part of his personal legacy the impact that he is having on his city and its residents.” So more power to you. Through your blog, you have found a way to do a huge amount of good. Let me get through this self-quarantine, and also recover from the financial hit that it’s delivering to me, and I’ll happily reinstate my monthly giving. Mostly, I just wanted to suggest the idea of a member counter and a money tally, on the idea that it might be an inspiration for, as you say, growing the blog into a “recognizable phenomenon.” Stay safe.

  14. Avatar
    chtimarc  April 3, 2020

    May I also suggest to include a link to donate on your Facebook posts? I shared the post and I suspect most people are willing to give on the spur of the moment by simply “click and give” links. I tend to give more to “Quick, easy, and available on the spot links” (with links to paypal and such)

  15. Avatar
    Jac  April 18, 2020

    I am new to the blog and only recently found your books. Really enjoying what you have to say. One quick question : are the charities that benefit only operating in the US, or are they spread around the world?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 19, 2020

      Click on the “Philanthropy” link and you’ll see descriptions of them. Two local to me; two international (Dr’s without Borders and CARE International)

  16. Avatar
    billott  April 24, 2020

    Given his time frame on earth, what kind of churches did Paul help create or sponsor? Gnostic?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 26, 2020

      Gnosticism did not show up for another century. Paul’s churches were made up primarily of former pagans, Greek speakers, followers of Jesus, who did not keep the requirements of the Jewish law, but who accepted the Scriptures as authoritative on some level and Jesus as messiah.

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