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Why I’m To Be Pitied for Being the Wrong *Kind* of Fundamentalist!

I was browsing though old posts from five years ago, and came across this one I had forgotten all about.  You’ll see I got a bit feisty here, but it sounds like I was having fun.  Well, in a way.  The whole thing really is a bit aggravating.


Several readers of this blog have pointed me to an article in the conservative journal First Things;  the article (a review of a book by the  evangelical scholar Craig Blomberg) was written by Louis Markos, an English professor at Houston Baptist University.  The title is called “Ehrman Errant.”   I must say, that did not sound like a promising beginning.

I had never heard of Louis Markos before – had certainly never met him, talked with him about myself or my life, shared with him my views of important topics, spent time to see how he ticked and to let him see how I do.   I don’t know the man, and he doesn’t know me.  And so it was with some considerable surprise that I read the beginning of his article.

“I feel great pity for Bart Ehrman.”

So, from someone I don’t know, that’s a bit of a shocker.   I can understand why a friend of mine might feel some (but not great?) pity for me at some points of my life – when I had such difficulty, for years, finding a teaching position even though I had a PhD from a very fine program; when my father died at the sad young age of 65; when I went through a divorce and was forced, then, not to see my kids grow up every day.   There have been bad times in my life, and my friends grieved with me through them.

But that’s not why Dr. Markos feels “great pity” (not some pity – but great pity).   No, he feels great pity for me because when I was a fundamentalist I was the wrong kind of fundamentalist; if I had been the right kind of fundamentalist I never would have left fundamentalism:  the kinds of things that I found to be highly problematic about fundamentalism are problematic only for the kind of fundamentalist that I was.   And if I had remained the right kind of fundamentalist, I would still hold to the truth, and my life would be fantastic and not to be pitied — as opposed to the life I live now which is, evidently, greatly to be pitied.

I really can’t help but think that if Dr. Markos knew anything at all …

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  1. Avatar
    Salmonguy  November 3, 2019

    I would say he picked the wrong person to pity greatly…

  2. Avatar
    flshrP  November 3, 2019

    Belief in religious fantasies makes intelligent people say stupid things as Dr. Markos does his book review. But that’s understandable since he feels threatened and intimidated by you. Because your writings fill him with doubt about his core beliefs. And you are proof positive that a person, with great difficulty and after years of effort, can reason his way out of his most cherished beliefs once he musters the courage to face the truth without fear.

    Dr. Markos believes in the fantasies of the immortal soul and the eternal afterlife of rewards IF he does everything that his religion commands him to do. He has not come to grips with our most basic fear: fear of non-existence. Until he does he will remain a permanent resident of the Christian fantasyland. And you will remain a mortal threat to his peace of mind and to his fantasy of salvation.

    • Avatar
      ShonaG  November 5, 2019

      NOBODY IS ANY MORE RATIONAL THAN ANYBODY ELSE! It doesn’t matter when you were born, what you believe or don’t believe YOU ARE NOT MORE RATIONAL! It’s where your hiding your irrationality that matters and some places are much more dangerous than others!

      • Bart
        Bart  November 5, 2019

        I’m not sure I agree with that. I have a lot less reasoning abilities than lots of people I know.

  3. Avatar
    Nichrob  November 3, 2019

    To pity someone else for not believing what you believe is the first step to dehumanizing them…. Also, name a fundamentalist that does not claim that “their” fundamentalism is *correct* and all *other* fundamentalism is incorrect. It’s like saying “I work in the department of the redundancy department”.

  4. Avatar
    godspell  November 3, 2019

    You find this current of thought in most religions–the reasoning behind it is very simple. Don’t leave the door open to questions, because questions lead to doubts, and doubts lead to loss of faith (in dogma). The Mel Gibson type Catholics want to go back to the Middle Ages (or their idea of it) to get away from those questions. Basically, change of any kind is the enemy. But that’s a problem, because if your enemy is change, you’re pretty well screwed. Change is happening, with or without you. And change is nobody’s friend, has no comfort for anyone. (That includes atheists.)

  5. Avatar
    gwayersdds  November 3, 2019

    Yes Bart, you are greatly to be pitied for as a Duke grad, anyone who supports the tarheel way of life is just plain wrong. Their misguided belief system that UNC is in any way superior to the Duke life is to be not just pitied, but greatly pitied. I do pray for you that you will eventually see the light and convert to being a Blue Devil.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 4, 2019

      Ah, being tempted to join the devils. Hmmm…. (Actually I’m a heretic at UNC because I root for the Blue Devils. When they’re not playing the Heels! The football game two weeks ago ended gloriously. And now we head to hoops!)

  6. Robert
    Robert  November 3, 2019

    I remember when this article came out. I left what I thought was a rather tame but honest comment, which was immediately removed:

    “I thought this used to be a good journal back when Avery Dulles was alive and publishing here. This piece is not even worthy of response.”

    • Bart
      Bart  November 4, 2019

      Ha! I probably shouldn’t have responded. I was never a fan of the journal, but I don’t think I read it in the old days. (Well, I don’t read it now either…)

  7. Avatar
    Hormiga  November 3, 2019

    To flip the question, have you encountered former atheists or atheist-leaning agnostics who became Christian believers? If so, did they explain how that happened?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 4, 2019

      Yes indeed. And it does happen, though not nearly as often as the other way around. They explain that they saw the light and came to see the error of their ways.

      • Avatar
        Bewilderbeast  November 4, 2019

        Heck, I’ve seen those two things in spades, but it didn’t make me religious!! More cautious, maybe . .

  8. Avatar
    AstaKask  November 3, 2019

    Sounds like he’s acquired some of the post-modernist school of thought – reason and logic are only one kind of way to look at the world and all kinds are equally valid.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 4, 2019

      Yes, evangelical post-modernism is both interesting and highly ironic.

  9. Avatar
    Silver  November 3, 2019

    At church today I was intrigued by an aside from our pastor. We were looking at Luke 19:1-10 – the story of Zacchaeus. We were asked how tall Zacchaeus was and it was noted that it does not say but it does relate that ‘because he was short…’ (NIV). However, a curveball was then delivered when we were asked if, in fact, it was Zacchaeus who was small or could it have been Jesus (i.e. perhaps Jesus’ small stature meant he was hidden from Zacchaeus’ view by the crowd which had already assembled.)
    Of course, since childhood I have always understood that it was Zacchaeus who was little – we sang the chorus ‘Zacchaeus was a very little man…’ in Sunday School. However, I am now wondering if the Greek definitively confirms this or whether, since there appear to be no pronouns to clarify this, there is a possibility of a different conclusion.
    I would say that our pastor was simply making the point that we should read the Bible carefully and not just fall back on long held assumptions.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 4, 2019

      Yup, that’s the old line of interpretation, always told with a good sense of humor (since the story actually only makes sense if it’s Zacchaeus is short…)

  10. Avatar
    doug  November 3, 2019

    If someone pities you for your honesty, I also hope to be deserving of such pity.

  11. Avatar
    anthonygale  November 3, 2019

    Why do you think (some) people believe that the Bible, or God for that matter, ought to be perfect or infallible?

    Greek and Roman gods weren’t portrayed as perfect. To my knowledge, neither are Hindu gods. Even the anthropomorphic God of the Garden of Eden appears not to be. So why the Christian God?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 4, 2019

      In part it’s because if there are lots of gods, they would have a range of perfection and imperfection, but if there’s only one, and he’s behind all things — well, he jolly well *better* be perfect!

      • Avatar
        Bewilderbeast  November 4, 2019

        Ah, the “Lots of Gods!” They’re so much more fun! Imagine an evening with Bacchus and Venus. I think they’d have rapped old Louis Markos firmly over the knuckles. And if they were hung over they might even have smite him. Smote him. Smitten him.

  12. Avatar
    Fernando Peregrin Gutierrez  November 3, 2019

    In the Bible there are narratives that only make sense read with the perspective, knowledge, beliefs and customs of the society in which it was written. It even helps to understand many fictional stories the political purpose with which they were written.
    The problem is that for the great majority of Christians the Bible is in force, that is, it is valid today as much as it was in the very distant times in which the different texts were written.
    An example of this: a well-known apologist, William Lane Craig, argues that:
    “Now I don’t mean to imply that God does not speak through Scripture to the unbeliever’s heart, convicting him of wrongdoing and drawing him to faith in Christ. If you come to the Bible with a heart-attitude of humility, openness, and contrition, God will speak to you through it Obviously, this implies a sort of existential, felt need on your part that drives you to Scripture You need to reflect on your own moral failures and need of moral cleansing and renewal. you to hear the message of the Gospel. ”

    As you can see, for the vast majority of apologists, the Bible remains the way God speaks to human beings and therefore, the only firm and sure source of wisdom and morality, both today and when it was written. And that is a mistake that is very difficult to make believers see.

    The Bible is obsolete in almost 99% of what it tells us, explains or commands us to do.

    In addition aplogists and pastors consider the reading of the Bible as a religious act, something that must be done with faith and reverence, with Christian fervor, never as the normal reading of a normal text, be it historical, scientific, philosophical or fictional literature.

    In addition, they consider the reading of the Bible as a religious act, something that must be done with faith and reverence, with Christian fervor, never as the normal reading of a normal text, be it historical, scientific, philosophical or fictional literature.
    In sum, to read the Bible we must turn off the system, the mechanisms of critical thinking and that of the inquiring skepticism of our mind.

  13. Avatar
    Silverback66  November 3, 2019

    I have just joined the blog, although I really don’t have time to absorb this much information. This history of the evolution of the written text, and the transformation in the first four centuries of Jesus from the little brown apocalyptical socialist to the war weapon that he remains to this day have long been hobbies of mine, but there is only so much time in a dwindling life.

    I have often bragged that I took illegal communion with Bart in the spring of 1966. If I believe it hard enough, will it be true?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 4, 2019

      It will be true for *you*. And ultimately you yourself are the arbiter of your truths….

  14. Avatar
    veritas  November 3, 2019

    As I read your blog and how Dr. Markos evaluates your character without even knowing you does not surprise me.Oftentimes In my own personal life, some have judged me, without even knowing anything about me.A couple of these infractions occurred in two different churches when I expressed questions on Bible issues and my skepticism.One told me there would be consequences for my questioning and another told me I would not be saved and end up in hell.We learn as people,although offensive at times,to shrug off the insults and damnations towards us and move on.I have witnessed,especially in religious circles,that some pious folks or people in authoritative roles have a right,with arrogance I might add,to tell you who you are and how you should act,while claiming boldness and nobilty in their attempt to belittle your character.Sorry to say, that is slander,if nothing less. It is like picking up a book and concluding the content without ever reading it.In your field of study Bart,I am sure lots of people will take vicious stabs at your character and credibility. One woman wrote in regards to being excommunicated from her church for questioning the role of women in the church,” As the meeting ended as to her future within the church organization, the men of the quorum told her that her membership is being annulled,after a longtime of good standing. They proceeded to thank her and shake her hand for the years of service that she provided.At that moment as they proceeded to shake her hand,she said,I felt a viciousness about their sincerity and honesty’.Have we all not felt that humiliation in our own life’s somewhere.I have heard criticism and slanderous comments made by other notable scholars about Christopher Hitchens,Richard Dawkins, Dan Barker,Peter Singer and Bart Ehrman to name a few and having read works of the accused,I came to different conclusions.These are brilliant men who know their stuff.They come from different angles than the rhetoric we are used to hearing.Unbiased findings,I have come to learn,are opposed ferociously in religious circles.Keep up the good work,Bart!

  15. Avatar
    AlbertHodges  November 3, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman:

    In no way, shape or form is your life to be pitied. Even if you do not have the faith of your youth, hopefully the desire for truth and to go where it leads you continues to guide your studies.

    It may be that you are mis-reading the truth and coming to conclusions that are in error. However, ANYONE who honestly seeks Truth is serving God more faithfully that those that are having to shut down their critical thinking skills to maintain their beliefs. Such faith does not spring from the Eternal God but rather false notions of Him.

    Thanks for sharing your learning and your life journey with the rest of us. We are blessed both both.

  16. Avatar
    timcfix  November 3, 2019

    To often those I speak to in Christian circles about the very subjects you bring up find a look of pity toward me. I find myself excluded, my family mistreated, no one even considers asking for proof. All the proof they need is in the Bible, and even if you showed them proof they would not believe it. I find when most ministers get to a difficult passage they simply skip it. As an example a minister/professor I have a great deal of respect for was coverings a sermon on Matt 5, when he got to verse 33 he just skipped over “and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery”. That quote might have emptied the church.

  17. Avatar
    HawksJ  November 3, 2019

    [[[For ancient readers, it would have been no scientific problem for God to make the “sun stand still”…Modern scientists might wonder how that could happen since (a) it is the earth that is rotating, not the sun moving, and b) stopping the earth from rotating for a long afternoon would have destroyed the planet. ]]]

    I always find these arguments against miracles interesting. First, let me say that as a naturalist, I do not believe in any miracle claims of any kind, but it’s not because of the physics involved, it’s because I don’t believe in anything supernatural. But if there were an ALL powerful god, then there would be no reason to think he couldn’t perform miracles, regardless of how outlandish they might seem.

    The above example – and the given reason for not believing it -is one that perplexes me. Whether one believes the story or not has nothing to do with whether the sun stopped moving or it was the earth that actually stopped rotating. It was the effect, from the observers’ perspective, that mattered. Regardless of how the effect was achieved, it would have required a miracle to make it happen.

    Would the story be more believable if it had said, ‘and the earth stopped rotating, so that the day would last as long as necessary”? It would show that they had a more sophisticated grasp of the cosmology, but it would mean nothing in regard to the likelihood of it having happened.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 4, 2019

      I’d say it wouldn’t be *that* much more sophisticated (it’s how most modern fundamentalists interpret what the author meant), since it would require miracle after miracle for all life on earth not to be destroyed immediately; and the other planets would be affected, leading to the need more miracles, etc. But I get your point. It’s interesting that believers in the Bible have no trouble believing this kid of miracle but think that the miracles reported in otehr religions that they don’t subscribe to, or even miracles reported in Christian sources outside the Bible itself, are “ridiculous”

  18. Avatar
    Colin P  November 4, 2019

    I remember reading an IVP book (an evangelical publisher) by Craig Blomberg over 25 years ago when I was a (evangelical) Christian. I remember how surprised I was at his suggestion that the gospel writers rearranged the order of events (or even changed details?) for theological reasons. This didn’t fit into my idea of biblical inerrancy at all. I guess this is partly what this guy Marcos is saying I.e. that the teaching at Moody was too literal and insufficiently sophisticated. Would Moody Institute have countenanced the kind of view espoused by Blomberg? Of course, I still find Markos’ argument so shot through with problems it is difficult to know where to start.

  19. Avatar
    kentvw  November 4, 2019

    Spiritual Narcissists come in lots of flavors.

  20. Avatar
    Bewilderbeast  November 4, 2019

    I’m gonna look on the bright side: He only ‘greatly pitied’ you. He didn’t step up to the top rung on the hate ladder: I’ll pray for you.’

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