Friday, April 18, 2014

I'm a long time reader of The Age newspaper's weekly television and radio lift out, the Green Guide. One thing that its columnists seem notable for is their disdain and mockery of Christianity. Brad Newsome was prevailed upon to review The Jesus Mysteries, a documentary showing on the National Geographic channel on Good Friday.

Newsome, whose area of interest is science, wrote as follows: 

"One mystery is why everyone involved in all these Jesus documentaries seems to accept everything in the gospels as, well, gospel. True, there is next to nothing in the historical record to attest to Jesus' existence, let alone corroborate the gospel stories, so they're short of material to work with. But to proceed on the assumption that everything in the gospels is literally true is like making a doco on Islam and concluding that Muhammad really did fly around on a winged horse. The only scepticism displayed by the scholars and theologians assembled here has to do with extra-canonical matters. One of these is the belief that Jesus travelled to Britain and studied under druids (this began, we are told, with a yarn put about in the Middle Ages by an abbey in need of pilgrims). There's interesting stuff about the symbolism of the nativity stories, and the veneration and demonisation of Mary Magdalene. What would be even more interesting would be a documentary that took a serious look at the Bible as a human book, examining precursors and parallels in pagan religion and literature. Don't hold your breath."
Before I watch the documentary, let me offer the following responses to Newsome's review.

The majority of historians accept that Jesus was a historical figure. Likewise, when I discuss these matters with people, if you want to talk about the historicity of the gospels, I usually start with the gospel of Luke. Luke was a careful historian who compiled his account of the life of Jesus by speaking to eyewitnesses of the events described. Scholarly opinion on when it was written varies, either from 59 to 63 AD, or the 70s or 80s AD. In any event, it was written within the living memory of the eyewitnesses. As Craig S. Keener of Asbury Theological Seminary writes, "very few ancient biographies (the gospels are biographies) were written as close to the time of their subjects as the gospels were."

Then he conflates things by comparing Jesus to the prophet Muhammad, and Buraq the flying horse of Islamic belief. When I was at school and writing critiques of films or books, my teachers always marked me or my friends down if we went off on tangents and wrote about other subjects that were irrelevant to what we were writing about. If you don't want to lose marks, stay on topic. Bart Ehrman is one of the scholars featured in this documentary. In contrast to classical Christianity, which holds that Jesus was God in human form, he believes that the early Christians attributed divinity to Jesus long after his death. Surely having a scholar of Ehrman's profile in this documentary should be enough to satisfy Newsome. Did Newsome know that Ehrman used to be a fundamentalist Christian, then a liberal Christian, but now self-identifies as as agnostic?

On the other hand, I share Newsome's skepticism that Jesus travelled to Britain to study under druids. Because some scholars believe that the gospels tell us nothing about the life of Jesus between the ages of 12 and the commencement of his public ministry as an adult, there is also a body of esoteric literature claiming that Jesus visited India, Tibet, Persia, Assyria, Greece and Egypt. This is reading things into the text that cannot be supported. It's more likely that he grew up like his peers, staying in his village of Nazareth (Luke 2:52), being schooled in Judaism, and learning the carpentry trade from his earthly father, Joseph (Matthew 13:55, Mark 6:3, Luke 4:22). In other words, Luke makes a summary statement about Jesus growing into adulthood, and he was already well known in his community.

Newsome then sarcastically complains that the documentary doesn't deal with the Bible's precursors and parallels in pagan religion and literature. These objections are commonly made in atheist and skeptic circles. I wonder to how much depth Newsome looked at these issues? Did he watch the Zeitgeist movie, which a skeptic acquaintance of mine once suggested to me that I watch?

Yes, the Bible is a human book. It didn't descend to earth from heaven, gilt edged and leather bound. Its authorship was superintended by God, with its authors writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It comprises 66 books, written by 40 different authors over a period of hundreds of years, and  from beginning to end, it narrates God's plan of redemption for humanity and all of creation.

I'm sure that Newsome is very good at what he does, but in this review he's clearly operating outside of his area of expertise. It would be akin to me attempting to write a structural engineering textbook on stresses and tension in bridge design and construction. 18-20140416-36qbc.html#ixzz2zDJ5POVy

Thursday, April 17, 2014


This is another curio I came across whilst sorting through some donations at work. For the uninitiated, sometimes in churches childrens' ministry workers dress up as clowns to engage with children, hence the need for this pamphlet. Mind you, there's plenty of clowns in church pulpits these days or in televangelism. The only difference is that they don't wear a zany costume, red nose, or theatrical grease paint.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Somebody's not doing their job properly

I'm not going to add to the brouhaha about former Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Bob Carr's newly published memoirs, in which, among other things, he complained about the lack of subtitles on an opera video he was watching on an international flight. Thankfully, not all Arts graduates are as haughty as Bob Carr.

No, I'm going to pick a bone with Telegraph journalist Andrew Carswell, who wrote that Carr compared his memoirs to those of former US Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and Alexander Hague (sic). This is the sort of sloppy mistake that a university political science student would be marked down for, and shows how important careful proof reading is. 

It appears that Mr Carswell is getting his wires crossed, confusing Alexander Haig and William Hague. Alexander Haig served as Secretary of State under President Ronald Reagan from 1981 to 1982. William Hague has been British Foreign Secretary under Prime Minister David Cameron since 2010.

He could have avoided this mistake by interrogating Google, Wolfram Alpha, or his preferred search engine. I find these things amusing, so I couldn't resist writing about it.

Monday, March 31, 2014

More sonorous emanations

When I was a kid, I listened to and sang children's songs such as The Wheels on the Bus, Ten in the Bed, Twelve Green Bottles, and I Wish I Were a Windmill. Not being a father, I don't have my finger on the pulse of the contemporary children's music scene, but it seems that these songs aren't as innocuous as the ones that I knew in the past.

On Sunday morning, I was channel surfing when I came across a children's program on a community radio station. I don't know who the artist was, but I caught a snippet of a song with lyrics along the lines of, "When you're feeling down, remember that you are good and the universe loves you." That grated with me. "Oh, really?" I thought.

Due to the shortcomings of search engines I have no idea who the composer and performer of this song is. Regardless, this concept was popularised by the best selling self help book, The Secret. by Rhonda Byrne. It also got occasional mentions in the TV comedy How I Met Your Mother. In a vague sense, the Universe is analogous to the Judeo-Christian God. Only rather than the personal being of the Old and New Testaments, the Universe is an impersonal, collective spiritual force that permeates everything.

It shapes the course of your life, and you can also tap into its energies to receive good things and success in life. In which case, where's my house with home theatre room, and a large back yard with room for a dog and my private golf driving range, which I share with a wife and 2.3 children, you know, all the trappings of a comfortable first world, middle class existence?

Jesting aside, this song is just another example of consumer driven spirituality. A child hearing this song may be encouraged to be selfish in their thinking, receiving the message that the world revolves around them, and that they can have whatever they want in life. In this expression of spirituality, where is the ethic of serving others and making a positive difference in the world?

As for the notion that we are "good," nobody is truly good. To the extent that human beings are capable of being or doing good, it is because the grace of God enables them to be (Philippians 2:13, Hebrews 13:21). Some Christian traditions believe in the age of accountability, where for the purpose of salvation, a child is covered by God's grace until mature enough to understand and thus be responsible for obedience to God's moral law. After that, all of humanity is accountable to God in how we live our lives, and need to consider where we stand before Him.

God is not an impersonal force. He is personal and knowable (Jeremiah 9:23-24, John 17:3, 1 John 2:13), Because God is love (John 3:16, Romans 5:8, 1 John 1:9), He wants all of humanity to come to saving faith in Him (1 Timothy 2:3-4, 2 Peter 3:9). We are here to serve Him, and not the other way around. I'd rather know a loving, holy God than some vague, fuzzy concept of a universe.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Browned off with the Greens

Last Monday Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon introduced a private member's bill to ban all animal-tested cosmetics in Australia, including those imported from countries that test on animals.

This bill is consistent with their goal of establishing an Office of Animal Welfare to protect animals rights. Their own website states that "How we treat animals is an indicator of a caring society."

The Australian Greens are idealists. Their policies call for sustainable forestry, fisheries, and agriculture, and no new coal mines. In other words, both animal and plant life as well as our mineral wealth, are to be used carefully and not ruthlessly exploited.

Surely in this day and age there is no scientific justification for cosmetics to be tested on animals, and this bill will raise public awareness of this issue. Most reasonable people would be appalled if they knew this was happening.

It is a pity, then, that given the Greens support for abortion on demand, that this concern for the sanctity of life does not extend to unborn human beings. Is an ant or a sapling worth more than a human foetus?

In my mind the Greens shoot themselves in the foot when they claim to be the party of compassion, fairness, and justice, with pretensions of being the conscience of the nation, yet they seem to think that plant or animal life is worth more than human life. Having a consistent and holistic concern for all forms of life wouldn't go astray.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The new systematic tyranny

It is often said that in polite company you shouldn't discuss religion and politics. In the online world, these topics seem to bring the armchair experts out of the woodwork. They are also a vivid reminder of why people should only express an opinion on an issue if they understand it properly.

Australian missionary John Short has been arrested in North Korea for distributing Christian literature. According to former Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, he may end up in prison, or deported.

Channel Ten's news and current affairs program The Project facilitated a Facebook discussion on this news. If any excuse was needed for some Christian bashing, various people made comments along the lines of "it serves him right," "why can't we put all Christians in prison," "religion causes war," and the like.

These statements could not go unchallenged, and I was glad to see them corrected.

I responded as follows:

What predictable responses from all you "progressive" minded people, aside from the typos and punctuation errors. North Korea is a Stalinist backwater and listed by several NGOs as one of the world's worst human rights violators. Kim Jong-un's regime spends billions on armaments while his people starve. There is no freedom of religion, and being a Christian will likely get you imprisoned or killed.

Immediately I thought back to the Western missionaries who were held hostage in Afghanistan in 2001 by the Taliban on alleged charges on proselytizing. Unlike John Short, it was eventually revealed that they were set up. Even so, I distinctly remember a newspaper letter to the editor writer who said that the missionaries knew the risks of what they were doing of trying to spread Christianity in a hostile country, and it was their own fault. There was not the least bit of sympathy for them.

Put another way, how many of these people are really aware of the real issue here, which is that North Korea is ruled by one of the most evil and oppressive regimes in the world today? Perhaps they'd like a guided tour of one North Korea's many prison camps, whose inmates include thousands of Christians? A United Nations report released this week by former High Court of Australia Justice Michael Kirby, who headed a UN commission of enquiry into North Korea, gives us a stark reminder of this situation. I hope and pray that one day things will change there.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The pedantry menace

Somewhat belatedly I'm nitpicking on a website from 2012. All-That-Is-Interesting.Com did a series of articles of iconic photographs from various decades, including the 1960s. This included a photograph of the 1968 assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. The article incorrectly states that Kennedy died shortly after the photograph was taken. In actual fact, he died 26 hours later in hospital. These days writers have a world of information at their fingertips, so it is not that hard to put the time in to do proper research and fact checking.