Thursday, October 15, 2015

Letter to a Lutheran on Epistle to Diognetus

Below is a letter I sent to Pastor Charles St-Onge, written as a follow-up to our previous correspondence.

Dear Charles,

I have "published" our correspondence on my blog at Thanks for granting your permission.

Since our exchange, I have responded to another Issues Etc. interview, again with a science theme. The interview was with Greg Koukl, a Christian apologist with his own radio program, about a video by Bill Nye "the Science Guy" about abortion. My critique of Koukl, and of the pro-life philosophy he relies on, is the latest post at I doubt that Koukl will respond directly. But I truly would be interested to hear responses from thoughtful pro-life advocates. Some of the ideas I express in the letter are ones I've been working on for a long time. Others are new as far as I know, based on recent research, and I don't know quite what to make of them. I have little doubt that you will think me guilty of scientism.

I read the Epistle to Diognetus. Having been brought up a Jew, I was a little shocked at the anti-Semitic tone of some of it, although I knew that this was part of historical Christianity. I found it a little ironic that blood sacrifice could seem so silly to this Christian, whose religion is more centered on blood sacrifice than Judaism ever was. True enough (according to Jews and Christians alike), God is in need of nothing. So how could He be in need of a ransom in order to grant clemency? Let alone the ransom of His own Son? So how could we be in need of it? But reason, when it comes to Christianity's central drama, never seems to have been its strong suit.

Other parts of the epistle I recognized from my Jewish upbringing. The idea that pagan worshipers were worshiping stones is so ... ignorant and prejudiced! It is perhaps understandable that Jews could be so ignorant, but how could a Greek be? Anyone who has read Homer knows that Athena was never thought to be that statue in the Parthenon, anymore than Mary is one of her statues in Catholic churches, or Jesus on the Cross, for that matter, is ever thought by his worshipers to be a piece of wood. From a Jewish point of view, on the other hand, nothing could be more quintessentially pagan or idolatrous than to worship a man as a god, and nothing more blasphemous than to worship him as God Himself. And, to tell you the truth, it has always struck me as quite humorous that Christians, who traditionally, as in this epistle, despised Jewish rabbis as fools who fastidiously observe ridiculous dietary and other rules, should mistake such a person for the Creator of the Universe.

It is interesting to me that this early Christian apologist should have held the Hebrew scriptures in such low esteem. For him, the commandments to make animal sacrifices weren't just superseded, but silly to begin with, as silly as idolatry. But perhaps he didn't know Hebrew scriptures at all.  I was just listening to a contemporary Christian apologist quoting Leviticus as authority for condemning gays. But if Christians obeyed Leviticus, pork would be an abomination to them. Yet they quote it selectively if it comports with their prejudices.

As for Christians being the soul of the world... I have heard similar Jewish sentiments about Jews -- in a gentile (Christian) world. And as for dying for your faith, if that is "proof of God's presence", then we should all join ISIS.

When I was growing up, and fell in love with science, I thought religion would fade away soon. I find it very hard to give up that dream. (John Lennon's song -- "Imagine there's no religion" -- yes, if only.) But, if I am to be empirical, I have to admit there is no evidence that that could ever happen, and I see more and more evidence that reason is a feeble flame, and irrationality is more and more ascendant. We will not stop global warming. Science will continue to be denied, the spirit of denialism fed by religious dogmatism. Religious wars will rage. Voters will choose demagogues' baseless promises over reasoned, pragmatic arguments. I used to be an optimist, but now I am in despair.

A Christian worldview is no doubt better suited to deal with such darkness. But in my view, it is part of the darkness.

Best regards,

No comments: