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Book Challenge By Fundy Wife!


Centauro
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She uses NIV bibles.

 

God Part of the Brain...that one will go on my list, thanks.

 

She says she wants to start with the book of John..

 

Anyone who knows it well, I will appreciate any help when we get into it. I don't know much about his writings...

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Guest Marty
Good suggestion, but I don't feel she is ready for that yet. Anything that smacks of atheism she will automatically disregard. IMHO

Well,if she'll automatically disregard anything that's contrary to her views what's the point anyway?

 

 

She would be less inclined to read someone like Harris, an avowed atheist IMHO.

Ehrman went to Moody Bible College, and then Wheaton College, two very highly regarded (by fundies) theological colleges. From what I have read, Ehrman's point of the book is to gently show readers how much we assume about the bible that just ain't so. I think she would be more receptive to that as opposed to an all out frontal attack.

 

I agree that Misquoting jesus is your best bet for right now. Hopefully what she will take from it is how mangled and untrustworthy the bible's text really is. That is all you can hope she will take from it, but man, the implications down the road if that single idea can be seeded in her mind...

 

The thing I like best about the book is Ehrman goes to great lengths to discuss each interpolation and the reasons why a scribe would have changed the text. There are accidental omissions, and many, many theological changes. The important thing is he discusses the motivations for the changes, not just "these verses were changed".

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Guest Marty

Even last night when we talked about literalism, I pointed out a verse in Mark about snake handling and drinking poison. It stated if one is saved snakes and poison would not harm you. She said it was true and if the holy spirit moved her, she would do it :eek: That is what I am up against. She is that into it. She also stated she has no intentions of doing it, but if she was filled with the holy spirit she would have no fear, as she has salvation.

 

 

HaHaHa! I scared some jehovah witness' from my door one morning with that verse and a tall glass of lemon scented bleach!! LOL!!

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This weekend I got a copy of Misquoting Jesus from the library. I am still awaiting my copy from Amazon, the one I want my wife to read. I have gotten through the first 100 pages.....WOW!

I love his style, not condemning any faith, just presenting the facts and stating both sides of the issue then reaching a conclusion based on historical fact and research.

 

He gently nudges the believer into a corner, using excellent references and quotes from both sides. I get the feeling he is reluctant to give up his belief, but after 30 years of research, he fears the worst....that what he knew as the inerrant word of God, handed down to mankind, is the work of men who had an agenda.

 

This book is an excellent start for my wife. Most likely it will not instantly shatter her faith, but will finally give her a look into the historical beginnings of the bible. I am hoping she will look at non literalists in a different light, but this will not be and overnight process for sure. She is so emotionally tied to her church that it would take a lot to get her to give up her emotional safety net. She is not the type of person to be disagreeable, even though she knows the facts. For 20 years she has refined her apologetic arguments and she knows if she showed any doubt, she would be on the receiving end of what she has dished out the last 2 decades. I don't think she could handle that. She also likes being a member of a group and for her to single herself out would be too stressful.

But we will see what happens.

I am elated with this book, but guarded with regards to my expectations on how it effects my wife's world view.

 

More to come later.

 

 

Centauro

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Guest Davka

She uses NIV bibles.

 

God Part of the Brain...that one will go on my list, thanks.

 

She says she wants to start with the book of John..

 

Anyone who knows it well, I will appreciate any help when we get into it. I don't know much about his writings...

 

I'll help as well as I can, and I'm sure others here will as well. John is the spaciest of the Gospels, possibly because it was written when John was an old man living in exile on the island of Patmos. If the author is the same person who wrote the book of Revelation, he was having some pretty vivid hallucinations towards the end of his life.

 

John is the first to flat-out claim that Jesus is God incarnate. His quotes and accounts of Jesus' life are unique in many places - it's worth taking the time to compare accounts with Mark (most likely the first Gospel, and probably the source material for Matthew and Luke). Matthew, Mark and Luke agree fairly closely, but John is off in a world of his own.

 

Pay careful attention to footnotes. Compare passages with the NASB for accuracy - the NIV plays fast and loose with translation. And make sure to let us know when you actually start reading, so we can point and laugh.

 

:grin:

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She uses NIV bibles.

 

God Part of the Brain...that one will go on my list, thanks.

 

She says she wants to start with the book of John..

 

Anyone who knows it well, I will appreciate any help when we get into it. I don't know much about his writings...

 

I'll help as well as I can, and I'm sure others here will as well. John is the spaciest of the Gospels, possibly because it was written when John was an old man living in exile on the island of Patmos. If the author is the same person who wrote the book of Revelation, he was having some pretty vivid hallucinations towards the end of his life.

 

John is the first to flat-out claim that Jesus is God incarnate. His quotes and accounts of Jesus' life are unique in many places - it's worth taking the time to compare accounts with Mark (most likely the first Gospel, and probably the source material for Matthew and Luke). Matthew, Mark and Luke agree fairly closely, but John is off in a world of his own.

 

Pay careful attention to footnotes. Compare passages with the NASB for accuracy - the NIV plays fast and loose with translation. And make sure to let us know when you actually start reading, so we can point and laugh.

 

:grin:

 

 

Thanks Davka...I appreciate the offer. This should be fun!!

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John is the first to flat-out claim that Jesus is God incarnate. His quotes and accounts of Jesus' life are unique in many places - it's worth taking the time to compare accounts with Mark (most likely the first Gospel, and probably the source material for Matthew and Luke). Matthew, Mark and Luke agree fairly closely, but John is off in a world of his own.

 

I would say that Matthew, Mark and Luke agree fairly closely on accounts recorded in all three. However, where Matthew and Luke record events that are not also in Mark, they often differ quite significantly, even to the point of having quite a number of contradictions. This is quite interesting to note, considering that Mark is most likely the first Gospel and likely a source used by the authors of Matthew and Luke.

 

In other words, where Matthew and Luke copied from Mark, there are very few discrepancies, and typically the accounts are even word-for-word (or close to word-for-word) exactly the same, but where Matthew and Luke dive off into stories not in their common source of Mark, they present not only different versions of the events, but rather contradictory versions.

 

Such contradictions between Matthew and Luke were the primary cause of me starting to question my faith. And once the thread started unraveling, the whole thing continued to fall apart.

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She uses NIV bibles.

 

God Part of the Brain...that one will go on my list, thanks.

 

She says she wants to start with the book of John..

 

Anyone who knows it well, I will appreciate any help when we get into it. I don't know much about his writings...

 

Yeah John is an interesting one. A lot of the earlier Christians didn't like his gospel at all because it is inconsistent with the others. It was also written up to 200 years after Jesus supposedly lived and died so its not a witness account by any means. I haven't read any of Ehrman's books but I want to. I recently read The God Delusion (probably too atheist for your wife right now) and Why I don't have enough faith to be an atheist (because I like having something to contrast with). The God Delusion is pretty good though, if you wanted to read it yourself. It destroys the second book I mentioned. I'm going out to get some Ehrman books :). Keep us posted, this sounds really interesting.

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Well, it is commendable, but it has taken 18 years!!

 

 

:) Which I think makes it all the more remarkable that she's come to this point, where she's finally willing to open the communication channels.

 

So glad you're enjoying Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus! It's cool to find books like this, that are accessible and helpful, profound and yet not intimidating (I just recently finished reading Robert Price's "Inerrant the Wind" but wow the uberscholarly vocabulary and sentence structure make for difficult reading! well, difficult for me anyway)

 

Re the John gospel -- there are couple of ex-preachers here on the board whose names at the moment escape me, but I'm confident they'll be able to shed some light on the John gospel.

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I'm reading Misquoting Jesus right now. Unless your wife is a die-hard KJV fan (which you've already said she isn't), I don't think it's going to change her faith one bit. All the fundamentalists I know already admit that there may have been copying errors along the way, but they hold firm to the idea that the originals were inspired.

 

So maybe you can consider this book exchange to be a warm-up. Have fun.

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If your wife is able to handle Ehrman and you want to try a book with a more skeptical focus but one not quite as aggressive as the New Atheists, you might be able to try Ehrman's book God's Problem which is focused on the problem of evil argument and why the bible fails to resolve the problem.

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And out from left field comes Mongo...

 

Your wife has suggested a cornucopia of reading then I highly recommend you choose readings that will address a variety of mind viruses rather than one particular approach.

 

So while I enthusiastically support materials that logically deconstruct fundamentalism... I recommend that you show her materials that address the various issues that have an emotional tug on her heart.

 

People don't make important decisions based on logic alone. Primarily fear and secondarily desire are powerful determinants. Science clearly supports this view. All people including logical atheists behave this way.

 

So I would recommend that you include materials that show your wife logically and factually how to see these emotional issues in a new light.

 

To be more clear, the issue of the authority of the bible (an emotional issue) is easily dealt with by Bart Ehrmann in Misquoting Jesus.

 

However this does not deal with several other key issues.

Guilt based issues include...

- Original sin and how can people be good without the devine plan and forgiveness

- Hell - I don't know of any good source on hell but she will need to be able to picture her universe without hell. I would look for a history of hell as well as an assessment of why it is completely immoral.

- She will also wonder "What will others think if I change churches or deconvert?". I would pick a good autobiography so she can picture herself in another religious world. Whatever you get should have an optimistic message.

- Authority of the church and elders.

- Loss of fellowship. Show her how all of her existing relationships at the church are conditional to compliance and less than sincere. I'm not sure what to suggest however a good autobiography might help.

 

Desire based issues include...

- Thinking for yourself. Dan Barker offers this to believers as bait. Find materials that show her that we either think for ourselves or let others do it for us. One of the early chapters in the Age of Reason - Paine does a good job of pointing out that all religious doctrine and instructions comes from people that we are obligated to trust. Dan makes a good case for this too.

- A higher morality. Xtians do things to show god their devotion in expectation of his approval and reward. Non-believers do good things expecting nothing in return. A book may not be what is needed. Maybe you can ask your wife to go to the local food bank with you to volunteer. Fundamentalists volunteer in their own churches so any religious folks you find there will show your wife a whole new world of religious people. Then, when you meet someone who is generous with their time and is not fundamentalist, you can make subtle comments (subtle is better) about what you see in them.

 

What will be hard to deal with are the fun and exciting things she does at the church. People claim that these things don't matter but they do and their attachments to them are real.

 

Again, volunteering together in a neutral arena where there is nothing to gain may be the key to opening her eyes to a whole new world.

 

Maybe some people can suggest books that touch on these issues.

 

Good luck!

 

Mongo

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"I don't think it's going to change her faith one bit. All the fundamentalists I know already admit that there may have been copying errors along the way, but they hold firm to the idea that the originals were inspired."

 

I agree that fundamentalists for the most part think that way (as opposed to KJV-ers), but I think Misquoting Jesus has more to offer than just that. When you look at the way copiests likely revised the bible, particularly the motives as to why -- theological motives, not just copying errors -- it casts the bible in a much different light, removing a certain aura of inerrancy. Which should not be faith shattering, should provide a means of more realistically evaluating the bible.

 

"Supposedly Ehrman's next book in the series "Jesus, Interrupted" is more hard hitting and goes deep into the early christian movement and how the new testament authors were not in agreement on lots of theological issues."

 

I don't know if I would call it "harder hitting" than Misquoting Jesus, but it does provide a much more sweeping overview of what Christianity is; how the messages of different books in the new testament differ, how it came to be put together, history of early church, etc. It is basically an overview of modern (past 150 years?) biblical history, "higher criticism." His main point is that this is not new information, but is not known by most ordinary church-going Christians. Ehrman goes to greater lengths in this book to explain that he is not trying destroy people's faith, and in fact that he doesn't think his writings are in conflict with holding faith. But it is obvious that he finds higher criticism to be incompatable with a fundamentalist, inerrantist reading of the bible.

 

I think Mongo makes excellent suggestions above, that should give your wife reading materials for the next 18 years! I like the suggestion of a neutral activity as well.

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People don't make important decisions based on logic alone. Primarily fear and secondarily desire are powerful determinants. Science clearly supports this view. All people including logical atheists behave this way.

 

That's definitely not an absolute.

 

When I began questioning my faith, I did not want to leave Christianity. My worldview was my comfort zone, and the thought of disrupting that foundation was a bit scary. So, if I had gone with "fear" and "desire," I would still be a Christian today.

 

On logical grounds, though, I just couldn't continue following the Bible and Christianity, because the more holes I saw in it the more I realized that it's pure bullshit. I went through a very depressing time while coming to grips with this, which would not have happened if I was doing what I desired by leaving the faith.

 

I may be in the minority, but I left the faith on logical grounds, not emotional grounds, plain and simple.

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When people experience cognitive dissonance, that is when reality does not conform to their beliefs, the must somehow deny, distort, or ignore the reality that bothered them. These are dissonant events.

 

Some believers can do this easily, using their faith as a measuring stick for the rest of the world, and making excuses when their measurements lead to error.

 

However, these dissonant events can stack up. Should a believer find the weight of them grating, he will begin to shift uncomfortably, and possibly begin the journey to clean them up.

 

Some will restructure their reality, but save most of the beliefs. They are not irritated, but there are still events they ignore. They may switch churches, or read some apologetics and build a brace against the pressure. They are able to pause on their journey for the time being, though they can't go back to where they started.

 

However, others will go even further, perhaps rejecting more dogma. Sometimes the cleaning appears to work, only to later realize much of the mess has been swept under a new fancy rug or covered up by an temporary air freshener.

 

Some then will go the whole way, and throw the mess out, becoming deists or atheists, and embracing reality.

 

Logical arguments are the foundation of faith, and emotion is the glue. Purely logical people have an easier time of things, as it truly does crumble like a house of cards. Those who must get over emotional attachments to the faith however often find themselves in a sticky mess. The foundation is crumbling, but slowly, and some bricks may seem to be held up by pure emotion, though there is more strain if the bottom layers have been removed...they fall into depression as their beliefs are slowly torn down by gravity.

 

(That was somewhat stream of consciousness, but just some concepts I'm working on in my head.)

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ShallowByThyGame, that is an excellent summary of the effects of cognitive dissonance, I'm copying it down. Very much fits my own experiences of sweeping things under the carpet for a long time, which ultimately led to "Some then will go the whole way, and throw the mess out, becoming deists or atheists, and embracing reality." Here's to more embracing reality all around.

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When people experience cognitive dissonance, that is when reality does not conform to their beliefs, the must somehow deny, distort, or ignore the reality that bothered them. These are dissonant events.

 

Some believers can do this easily, using their faith as a measuring stick for the rest of the world, and making excuses when their measurements lead to error.

 

However, these dissonant events can stack up. Should a believer find the weight of them grating, he will begin to shift uncomfortably, and possibly begin the journey to clean them up.

 

Some will restructure their reality, but save most of the beliefs. They are not irritated, but there are still events they ignore. They may switch churches, or read some apologetics and build a brace against the pressure. They are able to pause on their journey for the time being, though they can't go back to where they started.

 

However, others will go even further, perhaps rejecting more dogma. Sometimes the cleaning appears to work, only to later realize much of the mess has been swept under a new fancy rug or covered up by an temporary air freshener.

 

Some then will go the whole way, and throw the mess out, becoming deists or atheists, and embracing reality.

 

Logical arguments are the foundation of faith, and emotion is the glue. Purely logical people have an easier time of things, as it truly does crumble like a house of cards. Those who must get over emotional attachments to the faith however often find themselves in a sticky mess. The foundation is crumbling, but slowly, and some bricks may seem to be held up by pure emotion, though there is more strain if the bottom layers have been removed...they fall into depression as their beliefs are slowly torn down by gravity.

 

(That was somewhat stream of consciousness, but just some concepts I'm working on in my head.)

 

Wow... you just completely described my entire deconversion process. I've been putting off writing my testemonial for some time now. Maybe I should just cut and paste this instead eh? :grin: Well said.

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LOL... That would be a tough one to explain. But I definitely felt face-planted when I did start to deal with that lump, or maybe body-slammed.

 

Very much fits my own experiences of sweeping things under the carpet for a long time, which ultimately led to "Some then will go the whole way, and throw the mess out, becoming deists or atheists, and embracing reality."

 

Either that, or the lump under the rug gets so big from all the stuff you have to stuff down that one day you trip over it and faceplant into the wall.

 

Ouch!

 

Phanta

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People don't make important decisions based on logic alone. Primarily fear and secondarily desire are powerful determinants. Science clearly supports this view. All people including logical atheists behave this way.

 

That's definitely not an absolute.

 

When I began questioning my faith, I did not want to leave Christianity. My worldview was my comfort zone, and the thought of disrupting that foundation was a bit scary. So, if I had gone with "fear" and "desire," I would still be a Christian today.

 

On logical grounds, though, I just couldn't continue following the Bible and Christianity, because the more holes I saw in it the more I realized that it's pure bullshit. I went through a very depressing time while coming to grips with this, which would not have happened if I was doing what I desired by leaving the faith.

 

I may be in the minority, but I left the faith on logical grounds, not emotional grounds, plain and simple.

 

I agree with you and I don't think we're at odds.

 

The other day I had a long explanation of my post that got ate by the timeout function.

 

Understanding my own stupidity despite being smart too has driven me to seek answers in different ways. The science of the brain has helped me alot.

 

Now... I'm no expert by any stretch but I am allowed to read and I'll tell you how it makes sense to me. That is the extent of my claim.

 

Instead of thinking of ourselves as a being one mental entity (one brain that processes everything one thought at a time), I find thinking about the brain as a corporation of semi-independant departments, each having a different primary function. (Brain scans demonstrate this.)

 

There are several parts fo the brain for language, seeing, hearing speaking.... and so it brings me back to two different departments... the emotional (impulsive - security oriented) brain and the logical (or perhaps the analytical or responsible) brain. I like to think of them as a cop duo like Starsky and Hutch. One being alert for danger and ready to strike and the other responding to events in a more measured and calm response. The thing is, it's a whole lot more messy than that because the two affect one another and each one can write code (procedures) for each other to execute.

 

For example, let's say in TV land, Starsky goes into a bar to check it out and before he can report bak to Hutch, Hutch then barges in and announces to the 50 people there that everyone is under arrest. Two cops and 50 nasty crominals, Starsky didn't plan on that happening. Three things can happen. Starsky can make a mental note never to go into a dangerous situation without knowing that Hutch is under control. Alternatively, Starsky can have a chat with Hutch and convince him to think before he acts. And alternatively, Starsky and Hutch can repeat the same pattern over again until one of them gets fed up and insists on change.

 

From my point of view, the emotional brain and the logical brain are partners and yet sometimes at odds with who is in control... but it is messy.

 

So you said that logic led you out of fundamentalism. Exactly! Your logical brain excercised its muscles and told the emotional part to "chill out"!

The same happened to me but likely over different issues and also in response to different fears. Eventually I reasoned that the claims of xtianity(xtians) were not true and that I was better off to trust myself. I learned to quell my fears by thinking them through. In order to get there though, I needed to confront my fears and reason through them making them powerless to control my decisions.

 

Unless a person's emotional brain is damaged, this is how we all behave.

 

Our emotions are powerful motivaters and they are important components in how we make decisions. Fear in particular is a powerful driver of our decisions.

 

Now... we can rewrite our emotional brain with logical instructions but the same thing can happen the other way around.

 

With the right indoctrination ("brain washing" - not a very descriptive term - It's more like "brain writing"), you can train yourself and/or others can train your logical brain to base its logic on assumptions(meme) that the emotional brain has supplied.

 

For example, if every time I ask a church leader about evolution, and respond disapprovingly and ask if I'm having an spiritual crisis and then blame me for not trusting god... well, the emotional brain will remember this as one package of information that says, "Don't ask questions!" So the next time you have a question about your faith your emotional brain (this one is in charge of security and to protect you from danger) will raise a red flag and say, "You don't want to ask that! Don't rock the boat!"

 

I suspect the emotional brain loves sound bites. This would reinforce a pattern of thinking without wasting time that thinking takes. That might be why catch phrases like "Talk to the hand" run through emotional churches like wild fire. People who go to PAOC and AOG style churches are primed and ready to suck in the next catch phrase and chant it like a 5 year old. Singing "rounds" and chanting and all the repetitive actions are ways to train the emotional brain to exert its control.

 

As an example from current events, those that oppose health care reform in America have resorted to making up lies that people will believe because they will not respond with the fear that the new health care regime will use "Death panels". Rediculous but rediculous and therfore effective.

But for the scaremongers to say that under the healthcare reform proposals now being considered, government will do the rationing — and that government bureaucrats will decide whether people live or die — is odious. It’s a deliberate lie that preys upon the fears of many people who already scared as hell about loss of their jobs, healthcare, homes, and savings.

 

The truth here is irrelevant. Those who are terrified by the thought of hospitals having a conference room where "liberals" will determine whether their granny will live or die, and worse, that younger criminals like Charles Manson would live and granny would die, well, those people who fear this rampant liberalism and impending marxism, these people will write a message to their logical brain, "Health care reform is bad".

 

After consuming enough of this kind of scaremongering blather, their logical brain stops parsing these messages from their emotional brain and simply hands control of thier lives (or at least that particular part of their lives) to the emotional brain. They stop thinking.

 

In a nutshell, this is why fundamentalists must spend so much time in church and fill their lives with people and materials that reinforce their fear response. They need to constantly educate and exercise their inner security guard to be wary of the tricks(logic) of the devil. Constant reinformement is required in order to silence the logical brain.

 

So here is what is really kind of weird... a very logical person can, based on training from their emotional brain (the security guard) be simultaneously intellegent and simultaneously stupid.

 

I've said nothing about desire as a motivator although it is just a different side of the same coin. Homer doesn't think about his health, he only chants "DoOOO-nuts".Pentacostals chant "Jesus", it's no different.

 

So going back to exchanges with a spouse over religion. Its not a question of a logical debate. That would be a waste of time. It is one of setting one's spouse at ease with the absence of fundamentalism so that the logical brain can exert more control. We have to help them replace each fear with calm. That doesn't happen in an atmosphere of confrontation unless there is another fear (possibly divorce or access to kids) that can exert greater force over the initial fear. That kind of brinksmanship can easily backfire.

 

An for those who forget what I said at the top... this is just the opinion of an ignorant layman who is seeking whatever truth he can about life and people. Everyone needs to do their own research and thinking.

 

Mongo

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I suspect the emotional brain loves sound bites. This would reinforce a pattern of thinking without wasting time that thinking takes. That might be why catch phrases like "Talk to the hand" run through emotional churches like wild fire. People who go to PAOC and AOG style churches are primed and ready to suck in the next catch phrase and chant it like a 5 year old. Singing "rounds" and chanting and all the repetitive actions are ways to train the emotional brain to exert its control.

 

This is interesting. Did you know that people speaking in tongues have their frontal lobes shut down, including both the areas associated with a sense of self and with language?

 

 

 

No and thanks for the heads up. That's very interesting.

 

The more I learn about all this the more I hope that those fundies that claim that heathens are governed by their emotions but the flock is guided by the spook will finally get those lies shoved down their throats.

 

It is sickening.

 

Mongo

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Wow...great discussions during my absence.

Sorry for not posting for a bit, things have been hectic.

 

Well, wife and I started our book readings. She changed her mind and decided on the book of Isiah. She likes the prophesy stuff and as I read she points out the ones fulfilled. I just smile and nod.

 

We have also done the first 3 chapters of Misquoting Jesus. It has been difficult for her emotionally.

She has kept her cool, but is obviously uncomfortable and at times irritated. I remain calm and factual.

 

More to come when I have more time to write...bad time right now..

 

Centauro

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:woohoo:

 

After another spiritual discussion, my wife agreed to swap book and read a chapter a week and discuss it.

My wife is a fundy and wants me to read her choices of books of the bible. I get to choose any book and she will read a chapter and discuss it.

 

I need suggestions of books that will start her on her way to question her fundamentalism. Something not too extreme, but something that questions biblical accuracy etc. Any other suggestions are welcome. I look forward to this challenge and hope this can start her to question her literalism and absolutism. Thanks in advance for any help.

 

I like "Biblical Non-sense" by Jason Long. There are a lot of great books, but this one really challenges the morality issues very strongly. It also has a particularly powerful chapeter on how awful the god of the Bible is toward women. I read Dawkins, Sam Harris, etc. I think in the case of Dawkins he gets so deep that you could bore someone, especially if the are set out against it in the first place. It is hard to ignore the stuff Jason Long exposes in his book. -Mick

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Well, wife and I started our book readings. She changed her mind and decided on the book of Isiah. She likes the prophesy stuff and as I read she points out the ones fulfilled. I just smile and nod.

 

You could point out how a lot of those supposedly fulfilled prophecies have been taken out of context by the NT authors. For example, below is an excerpt from a letter I sent to a Christian friend a few years ago, in which I addressed Matthew's claim that Jesus fulfilled a prophecy from Isaiah 7:

 

After Matthew mentions Mary's virginal conception from the Holy Spirit and the angel visiting Joseph (Matthew 1:18-21), we read, "All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 'The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel' -- which means, 'God with us'" (1:22-23). So, Matthew quotes a prophecy from Isaiah and says that it was fulfilled in Mary and Jesus. Was it a fulfilled prophecy?

 

Let's look at Isaiah. During the time when Israel had split into two, with Judah in the south and Israel in the north, Isaiah says that Aram and Israel (also referred to as "Ephraim") came against Judah during the reign of King Ahaz, and Judah was afraid (Isaiah 7:1-2). So God sent Isaiah to comfort Ahaz, telling him that he will not be defeated by the other two kingdoms (7:3-9).

 

Isaiah goes on to say, "Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of men? Will you try the patience of my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign" (Isaiah 7:13-14a). Now, who is the "sign" supposed to be for? Isaiah is speaking to King Ahaz concerning the battle issues he was dealing with right then, hundreds of years before the time of Christ!

 

Now, what is the "sign"? As the NIV renders it, "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel" (Isaiah 7:14b). Ironically, though, Jewish scholars indicate that the Hebrew word ("alma") in Isaiah's account actually means "young woman," with no "virgin" connotation. As such, they insist that it should read, "The young woman will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel." In fact, a few versions (such as the NRSV) translate it "young woman." Christian commentators agree that the term means "young woman," but insist that it does have a "virgin" connotation.

 

So, what can we make of this debate? I am not a Hebrew scholar (by a long shot), but we can examine the context to see what Isaiah was talking about.

 

Isaiah continues by telling King Ahaz that during the prophesied son's early years, "the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste" (Isaiah 7:16). This is consistent with what Isaiah said earlier in the chapter: "For the head of Aram is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is only Rezin. Within sixty-five years Ephraim will be too shattered to be a people. The head of Ephraim is Samaria" (7:8-9a). So, we're really dealing with a relatively immediate time-frame, not something that would happen many centuries later. In fact, Isaiah goes on talking about what it is supposed to be like "in that day" (7:18-25) and mentions the "king of Assyria" (7:20), and Assyria ceased to exist several centuries before the time of Jesus!

 

So, exactly who is the "son" that Isaiah was referring to? Evidently his own! Take a look at what immediately follows this account. Isaiah says, "Then I went to the prophetess, and she conceived and gave birth to a son. And the LORD said to me, 'Name him Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz. Before the boy knows how to say "My father" or "My mother," the wealth of Damascus and the plunder of Samaria will be carried off by the king of Assyria'" (Isaiah 8:3-4). This is a direct parallel to the account in the previous chapter. Isaiah and his wife (the "prophetess") conceive a son, and shortly thereafter Damascus/Aram and Samaria/Ephraim are supposed to be attacked and plundered (7:8-14; 8:3-4). Following the child's birth there is even an oracle from "the LORD" (8:5-10) in which the term "Immanuel" is reiterated (8:8; compare to 7:14).

 

Some Christian commentators try to get around this glaring problem by arguing that Isaiah 7:14 is a "dual prophecy," having an immediate fulfillment and then an ultimate fulfillment in the virginal conception of Jesus. However, that doesn't work unless one concludes that there was another virginal conception before Mary's! Of course, Christians would refuse to consider that possibility. Also, there is absolutely nothing in the context of Isaiah's prophecy to suggest that it was meant as a "dual prophecy." That concept is forced onto the text by Christians in an attempt to make it be a prophecy of Jesus.

 

Beyond that, from Isaiah's account of the child's conception, it is apparent that the child was conceived in the normal fashion. Isaiah says that he "went to ('unto' in KJV) the prophetess, and she conceived" (Isaiah 8:3), implying sexual contact. From this, it is quite clear that the prophecy in question (7:14) does not refer to a virginal conception. From this, we can conclude that either the Jews are correct in asserting that the Hebrew term does not mean "virgin," or, if the Christians are correct in asserting that it does mean "virgin," then Isaiah must have simply meant that she was a virgin at the time the prophecy was issued, but not at the time of conception.

 

From this, the obvious conclusion is that the story of Mary and Jesus simply is not a fulfillment of a prophecy of a virginal conception, because that is not what the prophecy was claiming!

 

So, it seems that what really happened is that Matthew's account took Isaiah's statement out of context and inaccurately included it as a fulfilled prophecy of Jesus' alleged virgin birth. And he may have even changed "young woman" to "virgin" (possibly by misunderstanding the Hebrew or using a faulty translation). Regardless of that, though, Matthew clearly misused the prophecy he relied on.

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