Official Blog of the Bishop of Durham

Archive for the ‘Religion & Society’ Category

Science Doesn’t Have All the Answers – Which is Why We Need Theology

Posted by NT Wrong on January 5, 2009

From Jesus and Mo.

Posted in Humour, Science | 2 Comments »

Ben Witherington Makes Up Stuff about Historicity of Jesus

Posted by NT Wrong on January 4, 2009

witheringtonLeo takes apart Ben Witherington’s comments from an Australian Radio Show, ‘G’Day World’ (recorded in September 2008).

“During this very interview, he says a few things that are so untrue that it saddens me. It saddens me to hear them coming out of the mouth of someone who is seen as a respectable expert in his field by the many students under his tutelage, who naturally assume he is being honest… what bugs me is the outright falsehoods that he let slip out in his passionate rhetoric during this interview. Moreover, not only are they egregious falsehoods; they are stated so haughtily, so smugly author[it]atively that it makes them doubly shameful to my eyes.”

Leo provides a good discussion of unsupportable overstatements and assertions made by Ben Witherington, namely:

  • Witherington misquotes Greco-Roman authors as “claiming” to rely on Roman records, when they do not make such a claim (whether or not good arguments can be raised that they did rely on official records);
  • Witherington claims that Origen ‘certainly’ quoted from Josephus’ ‘Flavium Testamonium’ in the former’s commentary on John, without being able to provide support when challenged by the interviewer;
  • Witherington makes the old apologetic argument for the truth of the resurrection from the alleged behaviour of Jesus’ earliest disciples in preaching the Gospel — despite the absence of contemporary evidence, [and with recourse to the ‘the disciples must either be Liars or Truth-tellers’ false dichotomy, which depends on the omission of some far more probable further options].

While these half-truths and misrepresentations are common in popular apologetical works, Leo is correct to lament that it is a great shame a biblical scholar – widely known in conservative circles – would recite such unsupported claims to less discerning acolytes. Witherington’s comments were either misleading or plain false (although, I wouldn’t dispute his ‘honesty’, as Leo does) — and this in a field in which there is already a plethora of disinformation fed to the public.

Make sure you read Leo’s very good post, which contains transcriptions of Ben Witherington’s comments, together with Leo’s responses.

Posted in Fundamentalism, Historiography, Jesus & Christ | 14 Comments »

Creation Science 101 – A Song by Roy Zimmerman

Posted by NT Wrong on December 26, 2008

Posted in Fundamentalism, Humour, Music, Science | 1 Comment »

Virgin Mary on Christmas Playboy Cover – The Borrowed Kettle – Too Many Excuses

Posted by NT Wrong on December 18, 2008

The December 2008 Mexican edition of Playboy features a woman draped in a religious looking veil, standing in front of a stained glass window, with the words ‘We adore you, Mary’ across the cover. The model’s name is Maria Florencia Onori. She appears completely nude within the publication, in various religiously themed poses. The magazine was released immediately before Mexico celebrates the Virgin of Guadalupe, and in the month of Christmas.

Playboy has made a number of responses: a denial, a shifting of the blame, and a ‘sincere apology’ for any offense caused.

A denial:

The image “is not and never was intended to portray the Virgin of Guadalupe or any other religious figure… The intent was to reflect a Renaissance-like mood on the cover.”
– Raul Sayrols, publisher of Playboy Mexico

A blame-shift:

“the Mexican edition of the magazine is published by a licensee, and the company did not approve or endorse the cover.”
– Chicago-based Playboy Enterprises Inc

An apology:

“While Playboy Mexico never meant for the cover or images to offend anyone, we recognize that it has created offense, and we as well as Playboy Mexico offer our sincerest apologies.”- – Chicago-based Playboy Enterprises Inc

The problem is the magazine has too many reasons.

Freud tells a story about a borrowed kettle:

“A. borrowed a copper kettle from B. and after he had returned it was sued by B. because the kettle now had a big hole in it which made it unusable. His defence was: ‘First, I never borrowed the kettle from B. at all; secondly, the kettle had a hole in it already when I got it from him; and thirdly, I gave him back the kettle undamaged.'”

This story is a favourite of Zizek’s. He has another good example:

“Do we not encounter the same inconsistency when high United States officials try to justify the attack on Iraq? (1) There is a link between Saddam’s regime and al-Qaeda, so Saddam should be punished as part of the retaliation for 11 September; (2) Even if there is no link between the Iraqi regime and al-Qaeda, they are united in their hatred of the United States–Saddam’s regime is thus very dangerous, a threat not only to the United States, but also to its neighbours and the Iraqi people; (3) The change of regime in Iraq will create the conditions for the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
– The Universal Exception, 289

Of couse, there have been a number of other, also contradictory excuses offered by United States officials for the Iraq war. But there is no mention that war and securing oil are good business and smart political muscle-flexing. There was no mention from Playboy Enterprises Inc that controversy and sex sells porno magazines, either.

Posted in Capitalism, Religion & Society, War | 13 Comments »

Scholars Talk about Their Private Lives – When Faith Meets Reason

Posted by NT Wrong on December 15, 2008

faith_meets_reasonA new book from Polebridge Press explores the spiritual journeys travelled by scholars. In When Faith Meets Reason: Religion Scholars Reflect on Their Spiritual Journeys (Oct 2008) thirteen scholars “speak candidly about how they negotiate the conflicting demands of faith and reason.”

“This book could lead to a dangerous epidemic of honesty among religious thinkers.”
– Richard Holloway, Bishop of Edinburgh and Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church (retired)

These are the contributors and their chapters:
1. Glenna S. Jackson, From Hippo to Hippos
2. Charles W. Hedrick, Out of the Enchanted Forest
3. Nigel Leaves, A Journey in Life
4. Robert M. Price, Footsteps in the Quicksand
5. Paul Alan Laughlin, A Mystical Christian Credo
6. James M. Robinson, What I believe
7. Mahlon H. Smith, Ears to Hear
8. Theodore J. Weeden, Sr., A Faith Odyssey
9. Walter Wink, The Myth of the Human Jesus
10. David Galston, Giving Up the Truth
11. Darren J. N. Middleton, Min(d)ing God
12. Susan M. (Elli) Elliott, Coming to Jesus, Coming Through Jesus
13. Hal Taussig, Disparate Presence

The publishers have also set up a Study Guide website for the book, with “chapter by chapter instructional ideas and materials designed for use by study groups reading When Faith Meets Reason.” The website is still in development, but what is there looks helpful for those interested in exploring questions about the interrelationships of faith and reason.

Posted in Faith, Religion & Society | 4 Comments »

More Americans believe God Impregnated a Virgin than in Evolution of Humankind

Posted by NT Wrong on December 14, 2008

The Harris Interactive Poll measures various religious beliefs, and belief in evolution. These are the percentage of Americans who believe in…


Believe In


Don’t Believe In


Not Sure

















Jesus is God or the Son of God








The resurrection of Jesus Christ




Survival of the soul after death








The Virgin birth




The devil




Darwin’s theory of evolution
























Reincarnation – that you were once another person




This Harris Poll® was conducted online within the United States between November 10 and 17, 2008 among 2,126 adults (aged 18 and over).

Posted in Religion & Society | 13 Comments »

Anti-Israel Christmas Carols prove effective in Provoking Israeli Arseholes

Posted by NT Wrong on December 11, 2008

The Christmas Carols have been updated to reflect the current political situation in ‘the Holy Land’.

dreidelOnce in Royal David’s City

Once in Royal David’s City,
Stood a big apartheid wall,
People entering and leaving,
Had to pass a checkpoint hall,
Bethlehem was strangulated,
And her children segregated.

Though this city is a symbol
To the world of peace and love,
Concrete walls have closed around her,
Settlements expand above.
And apartheid Israel stands
All around on stolen lands.

David’s people once instructed
All the world in righteousness;
Prophets spoke of truth and justice;
Israel’s leaders now oppress.
All who look at Bethlehem
Must speak out the truth to them.

The Twelve Days of Christmas

Twelve assassinations,
Eleven homes demolished,
Ten wells obstructed,
Nine sniper towers,
Eight gunships firing,
Seven checkpoints blocking,
Six tanks a-rolling,
Five settlement rings,
Four falling bombs,
Three trench guns,
Two trampled doves,
And an uprooted olive tree.

The carols were performed at the Wren church of St. James in Central London, at an event called Bethlehem Now: Nine Alternative Lessons And Carols For Palestine. The event was organised by Jews For Boycotting Israeli Goods, a group of secular British Jews opposed to Israeli policies, and the Palestinian group Open Bethlehem.

Without a trace of self-conscious irony, Israeli ambassador Ron Proser blamed the Church of England for allowing its nice and lovely Christmas traditions to be “hijacked by hatred”. Then, losing all sense of the very meaning of ‘irony’, Proser claimed that the pro-peace activists “gave the stage to incitement of the kind of hatred we hoped had passed from this world, instead of encouraging understanding and interfaith tolerance.”

Although none of the News sources recorded it, the Israeli ambassador is understood to have later condemned the Wise Men as “insurgents” for declaring Jesus to be the anointed King — praising King Herod for taking measures to maintain the Rule of Law, after Herod contained a potential terrorist uprising by an organization of under-three-year-olds calling themselves “The Innocents”. Proser later pointed out that the Wise Men were from “The East”, an area renowned for its links with Al Qaeda.

Naturally, the Church of England’s openness to the Jewish group has been condemned as supporting “anti-Semitism” by any number of bandwagon-riding half-arses: Lord Carey of Clifton, the former archtwatbishop of Canterbury, and Dr Rowan Williams, the current Archbishop of Canterbury. And David Gifford of the Council of Christians and Jews complained that Christmas had suddenly been ‘politicized’, from what he must have understood to be a politically neutral celebration of Western commercialism.

But hooray for Bruce Kent, a former Roman Catholic priest and prominent peace campaigner, who cut through the Zionist bullshit by replying in this manner to the ‘tolerant’, ‘we mustn’t offend anybody, especially military governments’ crowd of insipid Anglican half-arses:

‘I think it is perfectly reasonable for carols to be rewritten in this way. I am fed up with sugary religion – the baby Jesus sitting in his stable and all that stuff… The carols pointed out exactly what is going on in occupied Palestine today. I am delighted they have had the publicity that this has generated. Anyone who speaks against Zionist policies is labelled anti-Semitic.’

Posted in Justice, Modern Israel, Violence, War | 2 Comments »

The Biblical Case for Gay Marriage – Newsweek

Posted by NT Wrong on December 8, 2008

newsweekOpponents of gay marriage often make appeals to the Bible. The Dec 6, 2008 edition of Newsweek has a look at what the Bible really says about marriage, and finds that — funnily enough — there isn’t much in the Bible which supports your average American nuclear family…

“Let’s try for a minute to take the religious conservatives at their word and define marriage as the Bible does. Shall we look to Abraham, the great patriarch, who slept with his servant when he discovered his beloved wife Sarah was infertile? Or to Jacob, who fathered children with four different women (two sisters and their servants)? Abraham, Jacob, David, Solomon and the kings of Judah and Israel—all these fathers and heroes were polygamists. The New Testament model of marriage is hardly better. Jesus himself was single and preached an indifference to earthly attachments—especially family. The apostle Paul (also single) regarded marriage as an act of last resort for those unable to contain their animal lust. “It is better to marry than to burn with passion,” says the apostle, in one of the most lukewarm endorsements of a treasured institution ever uttered. Would any contemporary heterosexual married couple—who likely woke up on their wedding day harboring some optimistic and newfangled ideas about gender equality and romantic love—turn to the Bible as a how-to script?”
‘Gay Marriage: Our Mutual Joy’ Newsweek, Dec 6, 2008

As Walter Wink nicely showed a while back, the sexual mores of the Bible are a whole world apart from our own — and that’s the case, whether we’re politically conservative or liberal. Newsweek summarises: “The Bible was written for a world so unlike our own, it’s impossible to apply its rules, at face value, to ours.”

“In the Old Testament, the concept of family is fundamental, but examples of what social conservatives would call “the traditional family” are scarcely to be found. Marriage was critical to the passing along of tradition and history, as well as to maintaining the Jews’ precious and fragile monotheism. But as the Barnard University Bible scholar Alan Segal puts it, the arrangement was between “one man and as many women as he could pay for.” Social conservatives point to Adam and Eve as evidence for their one man, one woman argument—in particular, this verse from Genesis: “Therefore shall a man leave his mother and father, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh.” But as Segal says, if you believe that the Bible was written by men and not handed down in its leather bindings by God, then that verse was written by people for whom polygamy was the way of the world.”
‘Gay Marriage: Our Mutual Joy’ Newsweek, Dec 6, 2008

The article agrees that Leviticus proscribes sex between men. (It also explains the absence of proscriptions against lesbian sex as a result of the lack of “entry”, relying on what it calls an “entry” from the Anchor Bible Dictionary — a Freudian slip?) But the article also points out that even the fundies ignore most of Leviticus while they fixate unhealthily on what men are doing with each others’ nakednesses:

“Most of us no longer heed Leviticus on haircuts or blood sacrifices; our modern understanding of the world has surpassed its prescriptions. Why would we regard its condemnation of homosexuality with more seriousness than we regard its advice, which is far lengthier, on the best price to pay for a slave?”
‘Gay Marriage: Our Mutual Joy’ Newsweek, Dec 6, 2008

And when it comes to Paul’s views on homosexuality, Newsweek quotes Neil Elliott (author of The Arrogance of Nations): “Paul is not talking about what we call homosexuality at all.” Given that the modern idea of ‘homosexuality’ — linked as it is to ideas about personal identity within an imposed binary framework of ‘sexuality’ — is barely one hundred years old, it’s not surprising that Paul had a quite different conception from ours.

The article later gets a bit sappy, talking about the Bible’s “universal truths” and message of “love”, glossing over its vile central message of the punishment of the vast majority of people in favour of a minority “chosen people”, and ignoring Jesus’ own short-sighted prejudice against non-Jewish people. The abstract universalized message of the Bible is just as unjust as its particular instantiations. But all in all the Newsweek article makes some solid points about gay marriage and the Bible.

    “The mama looked down and spit on the ground
    Everytime my name gets mentioned
    The papa said oy if I get that boy
    Im gonna stick him in the house of detention
    …And when the radical priest
    Come to get me released
    We was all on the cover of Newsweek
    – Paul Simon, ‘Me & Julio Down By The Schoolyard’

Posted in Justice, Religion & Society, The Bible | 15 Comments »

Jerry Falwell’s God – A Song by Roy Zimmerman

Posted by NT Wrong on December 6, 2008

“That was out loud – did you know that?”

Posted in Fundamentalism, Humour | Comments Off on Jerry Falwell’s God – A Song by Roy Zimmerman

Are all Religious People Clinically Insane?

Posted by NT Wrong on December 5, 2008

Some religious people are immediately considered to be religious nutters by most people in society. But is there anything fundamental that separates the nutters from traditional institutional religious adherents such as priests, ministers, and nuns? The BBC tells us the sane, rational truth in a documentary available on YouTube, Am I Normal?. It’s presented by clinical psychologist, Dr Tanya Byron.

“There can be a fine and sometimes treacherous line between believing you’re hearing the voice of God and telling others that you hear voices. It’s been said that if you speak to God it’s ‘prayer’, but if God speaks back you’re a schizophrenic.”
– Dr Tanya Byron

Dr Byron interviews Peter Bullimore, a shizophrenic who hears up to 30 voices in his head, 24 hours a day:

Bullimore: “As I grew up and went through school, and I’m sure the same is true for you, I was told it was acceptable to hear voices, and so were you.”
Dr Byron: How?
Bullimore: “Because we did Religious Education. Jesus spoke to God. Paul on the road to Damascus spoke to a bright light. Moses spoke to a burning bush. So we’re told it’s acceptable. But when you actually do start to hear voices for some reason, and you speak out about it, we have a tendency now to punish people.”

There’s no ‘line’ whatsoever. Where there’s humans, there’s nuttiness. Some of these society accepts, some of them it seeks to control. From Antonio Lambatti.

Posted in Religion & Society | 7 Comments »