November 10, 2008
Excuse me for making a generalization here, but I've noticed that atheists tend to approach the Bible much like creationists tend to approach literature on evolution. Certain atheists (for example Richard Dawkins) are publicly fond of bashing creationists for dodgy scholarship, and rightfully so. For example, many of us know how some creationists are overly fond of emphasizing select passages from Darwin or Dobzhansky to support their arguments, while selectively de-emphasizing other passages that might weaken their argument. What's less recognized is the extent to which atheists and skeptics do the same thing (for example Richard Dawkins) when quoting the Bible or the Founding Fathers to support their cases for atheism.
For example, I admit I had a good laugh today when I popped over to DaylightAtheism and found a post titled Jesus Never Laughed. I first thought about the absurdity of this statement in general, and I was not sure if the writer actually believed. Formally, I disagreed with the post on the following grounds:
1) The writer provides insufficient evidence to support his conclusion;
2) The writer's argument violates common sense, probability, and standard atheist descriptions of Jesus;
3) The writer's argument relies on a skewed interpretation of scripture and omits conflicting passages.
To begin with, looking at scripture from nearly two milennia past and thinking we can make any semblance of a reliable psychological evaluation about some character contained therein is our first departure from rationalism, but nonetheless let's expand briefly on the points mentioned above:
1) Here is the writer's argument summarized with a different biological function to illustrate its silliness:
The Bible gives no mention of Jesus pooping.
Therefore, Jesus never pooped.
Pooping and the value of regular bowel movements are not important in Christianity and Islam because they are rigid, dogmatic systems.
You might say this argument is logically formal, but anyone who seriously proposed such an argument would hopefully not be taken seriously. Scanning the NT lightly and citing 2 or 3 passages doesn't make the argument in my book. Either way, does omission of a phenomenon warrant the argument that the phenomenon never occurred, especially when the phenomenon posited is a plainly natural and human quality that would most likely would have occurred?
Furthermore, playing devil's advocate and assuming Jesus never did laugh, this fact wouldn't support the writer's conclusion that the Bible, "..treats laughter as an unworthy subject," or one source's assertion that the Bible ".. takes a dim view of mirth or laughter."
2) The argument itself does violence to common sense and doesn't square well with 2 of 3 possible depictions of Jesus. There is no evidence for the argument Jesus never laughed, and assuming an historical Jesus existed, we actually cannot escape reasonable evidence to the contrary. Atheists and skeptics enjoy one of two positions on the historical Jesus: non-existence or humanity. Point is, whether divine or mundane Jesus was human either way, and by far the experiences of our senses and reason tells us that the majority of human beings participate in laughter.
3) There are far more than 2 or 3 accounts of or references to laughter in the Bible, and in fact no less than 30 Greek or Hebrew equivalents for "laughter" are contained in scripture. The majority of them cannot be used to foster the "vengeful hatemonger" trope that arose in the comment thread. And although the Bible certainly does speak of the more troubling emotions like fear and sorrow and pain, the Bible speaks highly and often of mirth, notably in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes but also at several other disparate points in the story. In fact, there is a wealth of positive psychology in those two books.
I feel the writer's exegesis of Luke 6:21-25 is invalid:
Not only does Jesus never laugh, it seems, but he condemns those who do, claiming that sorrow and misery will be theirs in the hereafter.
To argue that Jesus is condemning laughter in Luke 6:21-25 is incorrect, IMO. As one might expect, the passages are arranged in a way that renders their context unclear. Jesus is speaking in the context of discernment between authentic prophets and false prophets, and I'll leave it up to the more inquisitive folks to read the passage in its entirety and context and decide whether they agree or disagree that Luke 6:21-25 can be interpreted as a condemnation of laughter.
If one is going do an exegesis of scripture, one should do it semi-comprehensively and objectively. Always include important facts like the version cited and the context the passage is in. In many cases, we benefit from discussion of Greek and Hebrew lexicon where relevant. Consider the opposing argument at least briefly if sufficient contradictory passages exist. If you want believers to take your criticisms of scripture seriously, you have to address them in the way the believer actually interprets them.
Lastly, and this is a minor point, but important enough I think it deserves mention: I take issue with the way the writer tars Gary Collins with the religious epithet of "demon-believer." Now I don't know who Gary Collins is, nor have I ever heard of the man; the tone is undisguisably derogative and the usage suggests that anyone who would believe demons could exist is some sort of fundamentalist wackaloon (although I freely admit many who believe this do fit the bill and this stereotype is not without grounding in truth).
If one of said fundamentalist wackaloons were to tar an atheist, medium or spiritualist with the epithet of "demon-believer" I feel confident in opining many of us would be appalled – and rightly so.
In conclusion, I object to the author's selective de-emphasis of passages that don't seem to fit squarely with his conclusion, which does not logically entail his premises, which themselves are open to valid criticism.
And Jesus probably both pooped and laughed.