Believing in the “Impossible”: A Critical Review of JP Holding’s book, “The Impossible Faith.”

Anyone who reads much of what Holding says on the web knows that he majors in ad hominems against those who disagree, and it should be well known that I do not like him. He’s a non-credentialed arrogant hack who has gained a following mostly from the uninformed. No wonder he had to self-publish this book. He claims that one of the reasons Christian publishers won’t publish it (which leads me to think he tried to get it published) is because, in his own words, “I won't write Left Behind style crap, and the market for Christian lit is glutted, unlike the atheist market.” I think there is another reason.

The book reminds me of one of the good college term papers I’ve read, which I’d give him a “A” on if I were grading it, but that’s it. “Good,” in so far as he read a few books and strung together some decent information from which I learned a little. “College term paper,” in so far as he lacks a breadth of knowledge on the issues he writes about beyond that level. Among Christian publishers who are looking to publish in the area of apologetics, they are looking for something better.

On the back cover Holding claims to have 17 years in apologetics ministry. If he’s 38 years old now (a guess), then that means he started his ministry when he was 21 years old. What can that mean? That a 21 year old on the web arguing for Christianity has an apologetics ministry? Hardly. He also claims “It is impossible to estimate the evangelical impact that is possible because of The Impossible Faith.” Since he capitalizes and italicizes the words, “The Impossible Faith” here, it’s hard not to escape the conclusion he’s referring to his own book. Such wildly overstated self-promotional claims usually come from college sophomores who think they know everything simply because they’re not yet informed enough to fully grasp the serious objections to their own arguments.

The “explosive proposition” of his book is that “there is simply no possibility that Christianity could have been accepted by anyone in the ancient world, unless its first missionaries had indisputable proof and testimony of the faith’s central tenant, the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Had there not been such indisputable evidence to present, Christianity would have been an impossible faith.” (p. viii) This is a very large claim! It’s widely recognized among educated people that the larger the claim is, the harder it becomes to prove it. But if you think this is a large claim he goes even farther. When discussing the skeptical argument that the disciples stole the body of Jesus, Holding writes: “It is impossible that Christianity thrived and survived while making such audacious claims falsely, and even more incredible to suppose that such claims were made with the full and continuing knowledge that the result in most cases would be rejection, ostracization, and persecution.” Then in the next paragraph he adds, “There are two added layers of difficulty…” So, first Holding claims such a faith is “impossible,” but that’s not enough. He adds that beyond being impossible, “it’s even more incredible...” But that’s not even enough, for he goes on to talk about “two added layers of difficulty.” (p. 97). How he can pile up “two added layers of difficulty” on top of an already “incredible” skeptical argument on behalf of an “impossible” scenerio, is beyond me. Educated people know not to claim more than what their arguments actually show.

His argument has floated around in Christian circles for decades, and maybe even centuries before, with more reserved claims about what it actually shows. It would be interesting to know who first used it. I myself used it as a Christian. But I only claimed the Christian faith was unlikely. The novelty of his approach is that he uses some recent scholarship from the Social Science Group of Malina, Neyrey, and Rohrbaugh, along with McCane’s study of burial customs in the New Testament era--books which someone must have pointed out to him and from which he uses like they were the gospel truth. He obviously picks and chooses what he wants to believe by these scholars, since none of them would affirm the inerrancy of the Bible, and McCane may be an atheist for all he knows.

It’s worth looking at his main argument.

Holding argues that ancient societies highly valued honor much more than we do today, and as such Jesus’ shameful crucifixion and burial would be powerful obstacles to them believing he is the Son of God. Holding asks, “How could a man, subject to such overwhelming disgrace, in a society where honor was so crucial, have come to be recognized as the Son of God? There is only one viable explanation,” that Jesus arose from the dead. (p. 17). Really? Only one viable explanation?

Holding argues that in the ancient world people concentrated not on individual identity but rather on group identity such that there were three strikes against believing in Jesus. Strike # 1 is that Jesus was a Jew, hated and despised by the Romans. Strike # 2 is that Jesus was a Galilean, which added to Roman hatred just like Iraq or Afghanistan is to us today. The Galileans were also thought to be “ignoramuses” by the Jews in Judea. Strike # 3 is that Jesus was from Nazareth, which would cause both Jews and Gentiles to scoff at the idea he was the Messiah. Holding writes: “Ethnically and geographically, Jesus was everything that everyone did NOT expect a Messiah to be.” (p. 27). Everyone? Really?

Holding argues that the resurrection was a major stumbling block in preaching to the Gentiles because a bodily resurrection went against the philosophical thinking of that day, where the body was considered something to be escaped from, and it was strange to Jewish ears because “no one had conceived of the idea of one UNIQUE resurrection before the time of final judgment” (pp. 29-32). Again. “No one”? What about Herod and some others (Mt 14:1, Mark 16:14-16)?

Holding argues that in the ancient world “innovation was bad.” Giving preference to the thinking of the ancestors over innovative ideas was the rule among the ancients. Holding argues this in regard to several particular innovative ideas: 1) Jesus taught that believers should be willing to forsake their families; 2) Jesus reached out to tax collectors and a Samaritan woman; 3) Jesus said the Temple would be destroyed by pagans; 4) Jesus teaching was subversive toward the Jewish perception of patriotism. Since Christianity was such an innovation (an arrogant and exclusive innovation), “it is extremely unlikely that anyone would have accepted the Christian faith—unless there was indisputable evidence of its central claim, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (pp. 33-45). Once more. Is it “extremely unlikely that ANYONE would have accepted the Christian faith…?”

Holding turns next to three other religions, Mithraism, Mormonism and Islam and argues that none of these other religions passes the test as an “impossible faith.” (pp. 47-66). There are differences, no doubt, but they all arose from superstitious people and charismatic leaders. Mithraism actually died out, and by the criteria Holding suggested earlier that an impossible faith would be one that “passed into history” (p. vii) then it should be considered an “impossible faith.” When it comes to Mormonism, like Christianity, he doesn’t mention how persecution actually fans the flames of a movement.

In the short and remaining mostly superficial chapters Holding argues that there are “three pillars” supportive of the “impossible faith”: 1) Miracles; 2) The empty tomb; and 3) The fulfillment of prophecy (pp. 67-75). He argues that the resurrection was not expected by his disciples (pp. 77-82). And he closes by arguing against two old and often debated arguments that Jesus didn’t actually die on the cross, known as the “swoon theory” (pp. 83-94), and the “theft theory,” that someone stole the body of Jesus and perpetrated a lie (pp. 95-105).

Overall Holding wildly overstates his case, doesn’t interact sufficiently with his detractors, and bases his arguments on certain implausible assumptions that he doesn’t justify. For instance, Richard Carrier has sufficiently refuted his claims, not once but twice, along with Robert M. Price, Brian Hotz, and recently the combative Matthew Green, but Holding doesn’t mention their arguments or interact with them at all in this book. While I can excuse him for not dealing with Green's recent arguments, I can't with regard to those written before he self-published his book. Why didn't he? He doesn’t interact with the book, The Empty Tomb, either. If he wants to be a scholar, a wannabe, then the one thing scholars do is they show awareness of the relevant literature and interact with it. Holding doesn’t do this in his book, even though he does attempt this outside of his book.

Furthermore, Holding quotes from the New Testament showing no awareness of Biblical criticism, the debates about Biblical inspiration, or whether Jesus actually fulfilled prophecy. Maybe he should take the 100% challenge? To blithely quote from a gospel (or the New Testament) without some understanding of the strata of gospel origins and the debates that ensue from them is just superficial stuff. He also assumes the people in Biblical times were not superstitious people in comparison to our own modern educated societies. He thinks people believed Christianity because of evidence even though they believed in Artemis, Zeus, and Janus, and that's merely college level stuff. [I’ll probably have more to say, but this is all for now].

47 comments:

Mark Plus said...

The Epicurean poet Lucretius in Book III of De rerum natura, written at least a century before the gospels, argued that a material "resurrection" could happen under unusual circumstance. But he doubted that it would reconstitute the same individual because the of the loss of continuity of consciousness:

"For shouldst thou gaze
Backwards across all yesterdays of time
The immeasurable, thinking how manifold
The motions of matter are, then couldst thou well
Credit this too: often these very seeds
(From which we are to-day) of old were set
In the same order as they are to-day-
Yet this we can't to consciousness recall
Through the remembering mind. For there hath been
An interposed pause of life, and wide
Have all the motions wandered everywhere
From these our senses."


So even the philosophers in antiquity had speculated about the feasibility of putting dead human bodies back together from disperese components.

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

John:
I am amazed at this post, which shows, yet again, why DC is head-and-shoulders above other atheist blogs. I am aware -- as is anyone who has read DC for any length of time -- how much your personally dislike Holding, and his 'confrontational' and 'personal' way of dealing with his critics.

Despite this, you were able to give a truly fair display of his arguments and positions -- perhaps doing a better job of presenting them than he can himself. Certainly you disagree with them, as I do, and you showed this, but you treated them with respect. (And I would argue that some of these positions are as important for us on the 'unbeliever' side to deal with as are the 'problem of evil' and -- I have to insist -- the 'problem on communication' are for believers.

Thank you again, John, for reminding me of why I spend as much time as I do here, and why I felt such honor when I could say i was a member here.

Shygetz said...

Excellent review, John! It seems to me that, given only the normal amount of "evidence" that most apocalyptic cults of the time had, the honor system of the time would have resulted in Christianity being much more widely accepted in the lower strata of society, with those of higher status and social honor would have avoided the religion due to its shamefulness. On the other hand, if the proof was incontrovertable, then both upper and lower class people would have been equally persuaded.

Now, my coursework on the ancient Christian church was many years ago, but if I remember correctly, the early members of the Christian church were predominantly from the lower social strata; is my memory correct?

Vinny said...

I was recently discussing "The Case for Christ" with a Christian who claimed that Strobel did a "good job" presenting both sides of the argument. I asked him how he knew that Strobel was presenting opposing viewpoints fairly, i.e., whether he had read anything by Bart Ehrman, John Shelby Spong, or Dominic Crossan for example. He said he did not need to because they were all disreputable.

It always amazes me that modern evangelicals who will uncritically believe anything they read (as long as it comes from one of their own) can be so convinced that early Christians could never have accepted anything they were told without examining all the evidence and seeking out eyewitnesses who might contradict the stories they were being told.

Martin Wagner said...

The atheist book market may not be glutted, but we seem to have all the New York Times bestsellers! ;-)

Joseph said...

The early Christians simply didn't have the means to do a thorough investigation of the stories handed onto them. They had to accept them on faith. We see a modern parallel to the "impossible" rise of a major world religion in the Mormon faith. A charismatic leader + miraculous claims + fanatical apostles + blindly devoted followers + persecution = a major world religion (LDS still one of the fastest growing--proving people are willing to believe despite the evidence).

Lee Randolph said...

Hi John,
Nice Job on the review.
It sounds like he's got one big argument from ignorance.
"The ancients would this and the ancients wouldn't that...."

Not rebutting his detractors was foolish.

Innovation was bad, unkay?

Joseph said...

Haha! Mr. Mackey in the house!

John W. Loftus said...

Thanks Prup for your kind words.

Shygetz, yes, one of the claims about Jesus is that he reached out to the sinners, outcasts, women, lepers, tax collectors and Samaritans.

Paul himself said in I Corinthians 1:26-29:"Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him." And Onesimus the slave was a convert (Philemon).

There were some exceptions, like Paul himself, and a centurion named Cornelius, but it was a lower class mass movement.

Vinny said...

What kind of "indisputable evidence" does Holding think that first century Christians would have demanded? Would thirty-year-old hearsay suffice as it does for him?

In any case, isn't the story of Thomas putting his fingers in Jesus' wounds the first apologetics? John seems to be saying "Yes, we really could show you evidence to back up our claims if we had to, but you are better off if you just take our word for it because you will be more blessed."

Steven Carr said...

Holding had to self-publish his book?

I am surprised.

Darren said...

Don't worry, guys, Holding's got ya'll covered here:

http://www.theologyweb.com/campus/showthread.php?t=102180

So far, the skeptical response to the book has been a collective "Duuuh... what?"

:D

Darren said...

TinyURL version of the link since it got cut off above. Enjoy!

http://tinyurl.com/yuyrfk

John W. Loftus said...

If anyone goes to Darren's (aka Holding's--own up to it will you?) link, you'll find the pure childishness of Theology Web. There is no serious discussion when it comes to Holding and Co. Don't even bother. My problem was that I tried to have rational discussions there to little avail.

I got so frustrated with this I eventually started a blog about him and witheld the fact that I started it. I did own up to it and confessed. Now he will never forget it and acts as if this happened yesterday and reminiding others about it somehow answers my specific arguments. Sheesh. But as I explained even a cuddly dog can be provoked to take a bite out of you.

Stargazer said...

Hi, John, reading your last post here and the June article to which you linked, it made me think of something I read just today in the preface of Christopher Hitchen's "Letters to a Young Contrarian."

How do I respond when I see myself or my efforts abused or misrepresented in the public prints? The brief answer is that I have become inured without becoming indifferent.

As you said in your article, there is definitely a need to develop a thicker skin, and at the same time maintain the connection, avoiding indifference.

John W. Loftus said...

Thanks Stargazer. I like the word "inured": vt "to harden somebody to something: to make somebody used to something unpleasant over a period of time, so that he or she no longer is bothered or upset by it."

That's where I am now, but it took me too long.

Steven Carr said...

The level of discussion on Theology Web can be ascertained from Holding's summary of Richard Carrier's analysis of what Paul meant when he wrote in 1 Corinthians 15 'You fools'

Basically, Carrier discussed this verse of Paul's, and Holding summed up the discussion as Carrier says ancient people were stupid.

How can you talk to people who misrepresent others so blatantly?

GordonBlood said...

Well I think by ressurection NT Wright and most other schoalrs would say that certainly there were ideas of dead bodies just raising from the dead and thats it, but that is clearly not what is meant by ressurection here. Ressurection is a glorified body, of course. As for Christianity being a "lower-class mass movement" that is simply too obvious of a statement. Only a very very small % of persons were even slightly well off; most scholars believe that most of the early Christians would have been "middle-class" in the sense that though the middle class was barely different than the lowest, there was some mobility.

GordonBlood said...

Oh one more thing. Concerning Vinny's comment about scholarship I think the only person listed who is reputable is Ehrman. Spong clearly uses outdated scholarship and pre-suppositions (never mind the fact he is poorly suited for such scholarship anyways. As for Crossan he obviously is questionable in terms of his ideas. The fact that he was a leading member of the Jesus Seminar should be enough to make anyone interested in New Testament studies be quite agnostic towards his approach (nevermind the fact that he brutalizes what the term ressurection means)

Darren said...

No, "Doubting" John, I am not J.P. Holding. Unlike you, Holding is honest enough to admit when he writes something, unlike you Mr. "I Just Recently Noticed This Blog". Oh, and you didn't own up to it. You grudgingly admitted that you had started the blog, but you never apologized for it nor did you repent for the lies your told. On the contrary, your efforts to justify your deception would be considered heroic if your actions weren't so despicable! The TheologyWeb link is here (TinyURL):

http://tinyurl.com/2n5dmt

Anybody can read that to see what John "I'm A Liar" Loftus really means when he claims he "owned up to" his deceptions.

As for TheologyWeb not being a place for rational discussion, try bringing some decent arguments to the table for a change! Attempting to refute Holding's arguments by repeatedly saying, "Really? Everybody?" is the kind of stuff Holding will mercilessly mock because it's the kind of stuff that deserves to be mercilessly mocked!

You want to know how to put together a real argument? Go to Holding's sources and show that he misused them. Show that he's drawing conclusions that can not be supported by the writings of the Context Group. Bring superior scholarship to the table that refute Holding's findings (and by "superior scholarship" I don't mean the literary excrement of a hack like Richard Carrier; I'm talking peer reviewed scholarship written by those with credentials in the field they're writing about).

But you won't do any of this. You never do. You prefer to sit around saying, "Duh... what?"

Joseph said...

I hope everyone can see what so-called Christians like Darren have been reduced to in the defense of their faith. Arrogance and name-calling must be a fruit of the Spirit, huh, Dan? Or is that a work of the flesh...if it is, you've got some repenting of your own to do!

John W. Loftus said...

Darren (I'm not convinced it's not Holding but now I'm thinking it's someone who feels the need to defend the Blog like Dee Dee Warren). Anyway, this is the kind of thing I'm referring to. I'm inured to it. Anyone who wants to go to Theology Web and check out any of the discussions there is welcome to it.

Besides, if my biggest problem in life is what you say it is, then I am truly a thankful person. Sheesh. Just get over it.

John W. Loftus said...

Fault away Darren. Throw the first stone. Look at the splinter in other people's eye all you want to. Make mountains out of molehills, and continue repeating them all you want to. It's that kind of behavior that makes me glad I left the Christian faith in the dust. Thanks for yet another reminder.

I remember a Barthian Scholar talking about Origen who castrated himself for religious purity who said, "it's not what I do that bothers me so much. It's what I think about. My mind is a cesspool of filth." Apparently you are different, pure, holier than others. Congratulations!

Besides, why in hell do you really care whether I misled my readers one time? You think I mislead my readers every single time I argue against Christianity anyway.

As a former counselor in the churches I served I know the hidden faults of many Christians, and I suspect you are no different than them.

Still, let's say I am the worse person on earth. What does that have to do with any particular argument I might make? I made an argument with premises and a conclusion about the problem of evil. Whether or not I am the sterotypical immoral atheist you might think I must be, it is irrelevant to my argument itself.

Darren said...

John: Darren (I'm not convinced it's not Holding but now I'm thinking it's someone who feels the need to defend the Blog like Dee Dee Warren).

Nope. Try again. My name actually is Darren, and I do post at TheologyWeb, but the name I use there is frankly none of your business.

John: Besides, why in hell do you really care whether I misled my readers one time?

One time? Is that another lie? You made it quite clear in the thread I referenced earlier that you have absolutely no problem with lying to or about your "ideological enemies", so I doubt that was your first--or last--deception.

As for who should care, I daresay that you should care that your little game left your credibility in shambles!

John: Still, let's say I am the worse person on earth. What does that have to do with any particular argument I might make? I made an argument with premises and a conclusion about the problem of evil.

Never said you were the worst person on earth. You're misguided and confused, perhaps, but certainly not the worst. And this isn't about the problem of evil (which David Wood has already taken you to the woodshed for. Do a search, folks. David Wood runs his own blog). As for your arguments concerning the topic at hand, namely JP Holding's excellent defense of Christianity titled The Impossible Faith, what arguments would you like us to consider? All we've gotten from you and your colleagues are appeals to ignorance ("Really? Everybody?") and ad hominems (so what if he self-published?). I told you what you need to do if you want to seriously challenge Holding's arguments and regain some credibility, but you choose instead to play the victim. "Poor wittle me, getting picked on by all dees big, mean Chwistians!" Well boo-hoo, John. You'll need to do a heck of a lot better than "Really? Everybody?" if you want us to start taking you seriously again.

Darren said...

By the way, here's where you can find David Wood's blog:

http://www.problemofevil.org/

John W. Loftus said...

Darren, how old are you?

Grow up.

No wonder you are banned elsewhere.

If you want to discuss something in the future act like an adult, otherwise you are banned here as well. We don't cater to the childishness of Theology Web like you're used to.

Lee Randolph said...

Hi Darren,
on holdings site is web page that describes what fallacies are so apologists can avoid them.

You should go there and look up ad hominem, poisoning the well, and red herring.

Amen John.

Steven Carr said...

DARREN
Show that he's drawing conclusions that can not be supported by the writings of the Context Group

CARR
Now , where was that thread on TWeb again where Holding goes mental because a member of the Context Group had the audacity to claim that Holding was just another of the many people who misrepresent things to support their ideology....

Darren said...

steven carr: Now , where was that thread on TWeb again where Holding goes mental because a member of the Context Group had the audacity to claim that Holding was just another of the many people who misrepresent things to support their ideology....

Got a link?

Steven Carr said...

Here is what Bruce Malina wrote when asked about Holding 'People have been citing the bible for centuries in the name of some 'My Will Be Done' project (or religion). That some are doing this with my writings is no surprise.'


Of course, when Holding's scholars are refuted, Holding usually turns around and says that he never agreed with the people he was quoting...

Darren said...

Steve Carr: Here is what Bruce Malina wrote when asked about Holding 'People have been citing the bible for centuries in the name of some 'My Will Be Done' project (or religion). That some are doing this with my writings is no surprise.'

Yeah, Steve, I think this is the TheologyWeb thread you're talking about:

http://tinyurl.com/2nby5k

It's hardly the smoking gun you make it out to be. In fact, it's not even close. The biggest problem is that Carrier misrepresented Holding's position--namely, Holding never said individualistic thought was non-existent in ancient collectivist cultures--so if Milana really did denounce Holding in this manner, it was based on false information. Oh, and where did Holding go "mental" in that thread?

Steve Carr: Of course, when Holding's scholars are refuted, Holding usually turns around and says that he never agreed with the people he was quoting...

Not that I've ever seen. Most often people try to refute Holding's research by saying, "Well, your source also says X, Y, and Z which you disagree with," and Holding will say, "So? I only need him to be correct on A, B, and C for my argument to stand. What he says about X, Y, and Z is irrelevant. So can you refute A, B, and C?"

Speaking of which, when are you or John "Thin Skinned" Loftus or anybody else who regularly posts here going to make a decent argument against The Impossible Faith? Appeals to ignorance aren't especially impressive, you know?

John W. Loftus said...

Darren, I think what I wrote, along with what I linked to, did an effective collective job against Holding. Sure, he has rebuttals, and we have counter-rebuttals, and so round and round it goes. I've made my argument. I gave his argument a fair hearing. I disagree, and I share why in almost every post I make. Only children would expect proof that he's wrong. We see things differently, okay, and so adults can make an argument for how they see things and leave it at that, simply because adults know that issues like these can probably never be resolved between us.

knerd said...

The "honor and shame" concept that JP Holding is pontificating about is the direct result of recent biblilcal scholarship on the life of the historical Jesus. It is just an example of one more modern methodology being brought to bear on the first-century Mediterranean culture which formed Jesus' social world. Using similar methods of cultural anthropology and other disciplines, historians are getting a clearer idea of what a Jesus firmly fixed into his own social context may have really been up to. These methods are also helping to make better sense of many of the enigmatic and paradoxical actions and admonishons attributed to Jesus.

When I see even JP using the term I can be pretty certain that the enlightening tenets of New Testament research are slowly but surely penetrating the thick skull of biblical and religious illiteracy. Of course, I harbor no illusions that Holding will use his new discovery for some new, rational approach in winning souls to the Almighty. But I am glad to see that the new historical approach to Jesus and early Christian origins is becoming more well known.

Darren said...

John Loftus: Darren, I think what I wrote, along with what I linked to, did an effective collective job against Holding. Sure, he has rebuttals, and we have counter-rebuttals, and so round and round it goes. I've made my argument. I gave his argument a fair hearing. I disagree, and I share why in almost every post I make. Only children would expect proof that he's wrong. We see things differently, okay, and so adults can make an argument for how they see things and leave it at that, simply because adults know that issues like these can probably never be resolved between us.

That sounds suspiciously like "I give up." That's why I can't take you seriously, John. You enter these debates full of fire and vigor, but then after a few rounds, you either leave in a huff or walk away with quiet resignation. It's happened time and time again at TheologyWeb. Your inability and/or unwillingness to go the distance almost makes it seem like you lack confidence in your own arguments.

This latest thread is a good case in point. You mount an ineffective attack on Holding's book, and when someone challenges you to get more specific and point out real problems with Holding's arguments by exposing flaws in his research, you instead whine and complain about being picked on then pull out the "Let's agree to disagree" card in a last ditch effort to salvage your credibility.

To be frank, I wish you would put together a more informed and well researched argument, one that shows you are familiar with and understand the relevant scholarship. As much as I enjoy watching Holding beat up on ill prepared opponents, I find it much more compelling when he butts heads with someone who actually knows their stuff, and right now, that's not you.

John W. Loftus said...

Darren, do you think I could convince you otherwise if I did? For me it's all about seeing things differently, and that makes all the difference in the world. Besides, I cannot deal with the manner in which Holding argues. He and his peeps are just too damn childish to have a real debate on these issues. I think he does it because he doesn't want an adult-like debate for fear he'd be shown a thing or two. If he ever changes his ways I would be glad to pursue these issues. As it stands I don't deal with childishness very well. I don't have to. At this point just read the links.

Steven Carr said...

Flaws in Holding's stupid arguments that everything in the Book of Acts had to be true or Christians would have been killed?

Apparently Holding can't even find Christian publishers willing to pay out money to publish that sort of stuff!

When you consider the amount of junk that can find a publisher, the fact that Holding cannot find a sucker to publish his book says more than any sceptic could ever say.

Joseph said...

Circling back to my earlier comment, I recommend a much better book by a much better author than this Holding character: "Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith" by Jon Krakauer. Jon shows how the Mormon religion was every bit as 'impossible' a faith as the Christian religion. By studying the rise of the LDS church we can learn something about the kinds of social, religious, political, and psychological factors that were likely involved in the rise of Christianity. Turns out maybe it's not that impossible of a faith after all!

Sinbad said...

As for Christianity being a "lower-class mass movement" that is simply too obvious of a statement.

That's far from a unanimous opinion. You might begin by looking at Rodney Stark's The Rise of Christianity, for example.

http://books.google.com/books?id=HcFSaGvgKKkC&dq=&pg=PP1&ots=dhb17jZaas&sig=9QMwSFIBmHKSiEEhTVKDASQeEWM&prev=http://www.google.com/search%3Fsource%3Dig%26hl%3Den%26q%3Drodney%2Bstark%2Brise%2Bof%2Bchristianity&sa=X&oi=print&ct=title#PPR7,M1

Joseph said...

Sinbad, since most of us probably aren't going to rush out and buy the book, could you give us a short synopsis of his thesis, or at least the part of the book that pertains to the demographic composition of the early church? Thanks in advance.

Joseph said...

Nevermind, I should have followed the link. Here's a quote from the synopsis there:

"The author plots the most plausible curve of Christian growth from the year 40 to 300. By the time of Constantine, Christianity had become a considerable force, with growth patterns very similar to those of modern-day successful religious movements. An unusual number of Christian converts, for example, came from the educated, cosmopolitan classes. Because it offered a new perspective on familiar concepts and was not linked to ethnicity, Christianity had a large following among persons seeking to assimilate into the dominant culture, mainly Hellenized Jews. The oversupply of women in Christian communities--due partly to the respect and protection they received--led to intermarriages with pagans, hence more conversions, and to a high fertility rate."

Correct me if I'm wrong, but the Christian movement actually began with Jesus and his disciples, who were themselves of humble circumstances and attracted other such disciples. Certainly what this author says is true later in the Christian movement.

Sinbad said...

Correct me if I'm wrong, but the Christian movement actually began with Jesus and his disciples, who were themselves of humble circumstances and attracted other such disciples. Certainly what this author says is true later in the Christian movement.

I was reacting to the assumption that Christianity was a movement of the lower classes. Stark refutes that assumption beginning with the "first generation" of Christians, irrespective of the apparent economic and social status of the disciples.

Joseph said...

Fascinating. To be clear, I am not necessarily vested in any position (yet).

Shygetz said...

sinbad, that book states that a majority of early Christian converts were women, who were considered social inferiors. Additionally, there are some purported methodology and bias issues with the book.

Joseph said...

Thanks for sharing that link. Excellent article.

Sinbad said...

sinbad, that book states that a majority of early Christian converts were women, who were considered social inferiors.

As compared to males, yes. But Stark's focus, as I recall, is on social class, and women, even when/if oppressed by males, could still possess high social standing -- unless you think (for example) that Marie Antoinette was a "social inferior"?

Additionally, there are some purported methodology and bias issues with the book.

Reviewers who are actually sociologists reviewed the book much more favorably than the English instructor whose blog you link. That English instructor claims, for example, that "anyone who knows religions knows that false claims about the reality are stock in trade for preachers of all types, which their parishioners soak up regardless of actual experience." He cites no evidence for this charge. Moreover, my personal experience is markedly different. The preachers I know aren't liars, even if one could reasonably claim that they are misguided or in error.

He further claims: "The stark fact is that any religion will be successful, so long as it is missionary, manages to maintain a coherent message, and manages to maintain control over the minds and bodies of its converts."

This is an amazing claim. Are the Shakers "successful"? The Amish? The Guru Maharaji? The Manichaeans? The Zoroastrians (more recently missionary in outlook)? The list is virtually endless of failed religions which, by his analysis, ought to be thriving.

Joseph said...

"This is an amazing claim. Are the Shakers 'successful'? The Amish? The Guru Maharaji? The Manichaeans? The Zoroastrians (more recently missionary in outlook)? The list is virtually endless of failed religions which, by his analysis, ought to be thriving."

There were simply overtaken by missionary religions that were more appealing in the end. The article in question sites the case of Christianity entering Asia and not gaining a foothold there because they were competing against other, more established missionary religions and also because Christianity did not find sympathy with Asian governments.

I don't think your representing this critique fairly.

Shygetz said...

unless you think (for example) that Marie Antoinette was a "social inferior"?

Marie Antoinette was a first-century Roman citizen?

Quel surprise!

Reviewers who are actually sociologists reviewed the book much more favorably than the English instructor whose blog you link.

And yet you conveneintly do not link any of those. And the writer of that article isn't just a random English professor; he has a track record of scholarship in the area, and an obvious grasp of social science methodology.

That English instructor claims, for example, that "anyone who knows religions knows that false claims about the reality are stock in trade for preachers of all types, which their parishioners soak up regardless of actual experience." He cites no evidence for this charge.

He relies upon the personal experience of the reader. Do you deny that preachers of all types make false claims about reality? It's clear that MOST do, as most say things about reality that contradict what other preachers are saying.

The preachers I know aren't liars, even if one could reasonably claim that they are misguided or in error.

He said they made false claims, not that they lied. Read. More. Slowly.

This is an amazing claim. Are the Shakers "successful"? The Amish? The Guru Maharaji? The Manichaeans? The Zoroastrians (more recently missionary in outlook)?

Depends on your definition of successful. They have managed to hold their own social niche over long periods of time, and some are growing. But as was previously mentioned, they are often being outcompeted by religions that do the same thing, only better.