Friday, October 21, 2016

"Hard Sayings" by Trent Horn part 1 (a.k.a. "Splunge!")

And so we begin our run through "Hard Sayings" by Trent Horn.  I'm going to go light on the quotes, no more than are allowed with fair use.

The introduction starts with some quotes from prominent atheists who've said that reading the Bible had either led them to atheism or solidified it.  He quotes Pope Benedict XVI saying those parts that are contradictory or morally questionable are "the dark passages of Scripture".  Trent goes on to say that there are other books out there that try to address these parts of the Bible, but in turn they often do so in contrast to Catholic readings of some passages.  In the book he's looking to fight back against claims by non-Christians of problematic Bible passages while at the same time keep it in line with Catholic teaching.

Trent breaks down his book into three sections: Conflicts between the Bible and known science and history (what he terms "external difficulties"), points where the Bible conflicts with itself ("internal difficulties"), and the self-explanatory "moral difficulties".

He ends his introduction explaining that he's not going to be able to cover every single passage that falls into one of those categories.  He tells us why he won't need to because
Fortunately, most of the objections critics make fall under a few common patterns, and so only a small percentage of the Bible is cited in their arguments.
I would agree.  At the same time I'd say most hand waving and whitewashing of these "difficulties" fall under a few common patterns as well (which I'll go over individually as this series goes on).

After the introduction we get a chapter entitled "The Catholic View of Scripture". One part near the start of the chapter that I'm going to skip is whether the Catholic Church has the authority to interpret scripture.  He writes a bit about how the Bible is inspired which leads to giving his church authority which in turn gives them the right and ability to discuss matters within the Bible.  He dovetails from that to saying this is why the Church decided which books were to be part of the biblical canon, which then gets into the Deuterocanon (the books found in Catholic Bibles but not Protestant Bibles).  All in all it's not something of which I'm terribly concerned.  Trent Horn in his book lists Catholic interpretations of various Bible passages, and as I go along I will state any problems that I see.

Trent brings up a frequent complaint about reading passages of Scripture, where people question why God couldn't have made them perfectly clear.  He is said to be infinitely wise and infinitely powerful.  He notes that there is no way to make such passages clear for all people for all times. That could possibly be true, but I think the general consensus is that they could be clearer.  Much clearer.  Even people during Jesus' time and soon after debated heavily as to proper understanding of religious texts. Trent explains that because of this it shows the necessity of having his church do the thinking for us.

But as we'll see a lot of this interpretation comes in the form of "This Bible passage says X, but it reeeeeallly means Y," or the worse, "The Bible passage says X, but it reeeeallly means not X." Often times the way this reason is formulated is to say that while Scripture is true it is not always literally true.  Trent explains:
For example, the Catechism tells us that there are two senses of Scripture: the literal sense conveyed by the words of Scripture and the spiritual sense conveyed by the realities and events within those words (115-118).  If we don't understand both senses we risk misunderstanding the author's meaning.
The Catechism breaks down the spiritual sense into three categories:  allegorical, moral, and anagogical (that last one it details "We can view realities and events in terms of their eternal significance, leading us toward our true homeland: thus the Church on earth is a sign of the heavenly Jerusalem")  In my casual discussions I've had online with people regarding the idea of a "hard saying" being true yet non-literal often the defense ends there, as if to say since Catholics don't view the whole of the Bible as literally true that there is no point in suggesting there are troubling passages within it.  Here are a few questions that need to be asked:

Why should a passage be interpreted in a non-literal sense?
It's not enough to just claim a passage is not literal, there must be a reason to opt for that over a literal interpretation. It can be frustrating for non-believers when seemingly the only reason for such an interpretation is because a literal one casts the God of the Bible in an unflattering light.

Can non-literal passages intersperse with literal passages, and if so how and when can we tell which is which?
I was discussing Exodus 21:20-21 and Leviticus 25:44-46 (where God is quoted as saying slaves are property) with someone who stated the passages were not to be taken literally. The problem is that both passages are in the middle of other passages that are to be taken literally. For example the end of Exodus 20 through the beginning of Exodus 24 is a long quote from God containing literal rules to follow, including the Ten Commandments. Yet for those people who state Exodus 21:20-21 is non-literal (which I understand is only some Christians) they have to explain why a non-literal interpretation is smack dab in the middle of God giving a list of laws.

Can a quote from God be non-literal? If God the Father or Jesus is quoted as saying something in the Bible, can we say that he literally said it?
I'm not talking about whether what is said is a parable or something like that, but if those words (translated from the original language) is an accurate representation of what was said. The Bible writers are often said to have been guided by the Holy Spirit, so I would hope that he would not allow for misquotes or inaccurate paraphrasing.

If we take a passage as being non-literal, what do we do if even in a non-literal sense it shows God being reprehensible?
So God says or does something that atheists find objectionable. Some Christians state that passage is not literal. If the figurative reading of that passage still shows God as being objectionable then it is imperative that the believer demonstrate a different reading or why that reading is not objectionable otherwise it remains a "hard saying" Again, solely stating that a passage is not literal is quite insufficient.

How do we determine which non-literal interpretation is to be used and why?
Let's take Matthew 24:29. It's a list of signs that all the world will see when Jesus returns. Matthew 24:34 says that it will happen within the generation of the people Jesus was speaking to. Now I think it's safe to say this is not literal. The stars did not fall from the sky. There are different interpretations of these passages that are non-literal yet conflict with each other (for example preterism takes the passages spiritually while futurism says "this generation" and "shall not taste death" actually refer to a future generation. In short, when speaking to atheists about those passages which have multiple non-literal interpretations it's vital that the believer explains why we should go with one such interpretation over all of the others.

In short, it seems the trick in trying to say that scripture is both wholly true yet malleable enough to contain inaccurate elements is to not question how these concepts run counter to each other.  It reminds me of the Monty Python sketch "Splunge!"  In it six yes men writers are in a meeting with an insane Hollywood producer.  Here's an excerpt:

Fourth Writer:  Well ... I think it's an excellent idea. 
Larry:  Are you a yes-man? 
Fourth Writer:  No, no, no, I mean there may be things against it. 
Larry:  You think it's lousy, huh? 
Fourth Writer:  No, no, I mean it takes time. 
Larry:  (really threatening) Are you being indecisive? 
Fourth Writer:  Yo. Nes. Perhaps. (runs out) 
Larry:  I hope you three gentlemen aren't going to be indecisive! (they try to hide under the table) What the hell are you doing under that table? 
First Writer:  We dropped our pencils. 
Larry:  Pencil droppers, eh? 
Writers:  No, no, no, no, no! 
Larry:  Right. Now I want your opinion of my idea ...
Second Writer:  (panic) Er... er... 
Larry:  Come on! 
Second Writer:  Splunge. 
Larry:  Did he say splunge? 
First and Third Writers:  Yes. 
Larry:  What does splunge mean? 
Second Writer:  It means ... it's a great-idea-but-possibly-not-and-I'm-not-being-indecisive! 
Larry:  Good. Right . .. (to third writer) What do you think? 
Third Writer:  Er. Splunge? 
Larry:  OK... 
First Writer:  Yeah. Splunge for me too. 
Larry:  So all three of you think splunge, huh? 
Writers:  Yes!

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Start the millionth religious blog and win a free toaster!

I think they kick you out of the amateur blogger's union if your first blog post isn't an awkward introduction, so here I go. I'm Mike and welcome to my Concerning Religion blog.  There is no one word to describe my feelings towards religious belief.  Depending on how it's applied it can be fascinating, confusing, awe-inspiring, alarming, insightful, self-contradictory, and dangerous.  It's why I chose to name my blog to reflect the dual meanings of the word concerning.

I am not a believer and haven't been for several decades.  In my day-to-day life offline the topic of religion, including my objections to it, hardly ever plays a role.  That is apart from those times where religion or the religious attempt to affect me (e.g. if politician X wants to pass law Y because of religious passage Z, then I'll be more than happy to explain my problems with Z).  I came from a Roman Catholic upbringing where my family still participates.  My circle of friends is a mixed bag of religious and non-religious, but that rarely is a topic of conversation outside of fanciful late night philosophizing.

I come not to bury religion, nor to praise it. By my nature I'm a puzzle-solver. I like to explore why things are why they are.  My first reaction when an explanation of something is nebulous is to wonder what other nebulous things does such an explanation allow.  Is there a rigor to how one is to understand religion?  You'll see what I mean with specifics as I go along, but for now just know that my focus will mainly be on apologetics (the arguments in favor of religious thought) and how often the reasoning used doesn't have that same rigor that we use in discussing practically any other topic.

I post semi-regularly on the Catholic Answers Forum under the name "Mike from NJ" if you're interested to see whether the points I make are worth coming back here or not.  It's a good forum, with a nice mix of viewpoints, references, and topics.  Not only that, but the people there write in whole sentences!  This truly is an oasis on the internet. :)

So where do I start? I recently picked up a copy of "Hard Sayings" by Catholic apologist Trent Horn. It's there to both counter doubts about certain passages in the Bible made my non-Christians as well as to help Christians assuage fears and provide a defense in case they hear such claims.  It touches upon many of the biblical questions I've asked in the past, so I'm going to go chapter by chapter and hopefully demonstrate that a great deal of defenses made by Trent Horn and other apologists like him lack the basic rigor and sense to defend much of anything.

Until that next post, folks, thanks for stopping by!