Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Bible Geek

My favorite podcast for several years has been “The Bible Geek” with host Robert M. Price.   A New Testament scholar, former evangelical pastor, and current atheist, Bob Price has a great love and respect for theologies, religions and myths (including comic books, of course!).   

He has little patience with “axe-grinding apologetics”, but he also has great friendships with apologists which creates an atmosphere where relationship is valued over polemics - although Bob will certainly tell you what he thinks about an issue!

He is also a master of accents, reading questions from listeners in the accent of their choice.  He usually reads Scripture in the voice of Charlton Heston, unless Jesus is speaking, then it is Willem Defoe.  And the apostle Paul is Paul Lind (Bewitched). 

All in all, it is a fascinating podcast if you like such things.  

I got a bit of a thrill when he recently addressed some of my questions.  If anyone is interested, I will paste the questions below.  Happy listening!   Or not listening!  :)

These questions are addressed at the beginning of the Dec. 5 2013 podcast.  I am particularly impressed by his response to the first question.  There is a lot for me to explore in there.

Hi Bob!

1.  My chosen myth is that of a pantheist, or panentheist, God.  God is all that is (including myself and the Bible Geek!).  And even if there is a stand-alone person of God in the mix, creation must reflect God's thought and intention,  and therefore that creation should be considered part of God, just as our thoughts and intentions are a big part of who we are.

Is there any history of this type of thought within the Judeo-Christian tradition?

2.  It seems to me that the problem people have with determinism, whether theistic or naturalistic, is that they assume there is a separate "I" being played like a marionette.   However there is no separate "I."    We are not controlled by naturalistic factors - we ARE those naturalistic factors.   The alternative is that we are disconnected from the phenomena around us.  It seems to me the same is true if one believes in theistic determinism.  God is not pulling our strings to achieve His intention - rather we ARE God's intention.

I suppose I agree with the Calvinists a bit on this one.  Too bad they mix up God and the devil!

I would be interested in your thoughts on freewill within this context.  Is there an "I" that is separate from naturalistic phenomena or from God's intention?  The idea seems incoherent to me.   

Thanks so much for your incredibly valuable insight.  I am in the car a lot teaching music lessons and playing gigs, and I always enjoy the Bible Geek!

These questions are addressed in the middle of the Dec. 7 podcast.  I was glad to hear him generally agree with me on the first, as the meaning of “turn the other cheek” has come to mean “ignore” instead of what it actually means - “OFFER the other cheek.”    The 2nd question was not addressed directly, but he offered interesting thoughts anyways.  The 3rd question response was interesting, but I think it may show a bit of a weak link in Mr. Price’s Christ Myth Theory.  However I am still very interested in the theory, and it is quite possibly correct.  Who knows?

Greetings to the garrulous Geek who knows his Greek!

I have a few questions for you, sir.

1.  I have been listening to some episodes of The Bible Geek over the last year and the subject of "turning the other cheek" has come up a few times.  Your view seems to be that the best interpretation of that passage is that it is a rejection of a retributive honor system.  While this makes some sense for sure, particularly since it is a direct challenge to "an eye for an eye" in the context of the Sermon on the Mount, I wonder if there is more to it than that.  

The passage does not say simply to walk away.  Rather it says to offer the striker the other cheek as well.   This seems to go a bit further than rejecting retaliation for the offense.   To me, it seems to imply a non-violent power play, where the struck takes back control from the striker - as in "You may have hit me, but I am the one calling the shots.  Here, hit my other cheek as well."

Doesn't this seem close to the kind of non-violent resistance we saw from Ghandi in the 20th century?  It seems an act of taking back power for the powerless by shaming the conscience of the offender.    

What sayeth the Geek?

2.  I join the Geek in criticizing the Penal Substitution Theory as fundamentally unjust.   How does punishing an innocent for the crime of another satisfy justice in any coherent way?   The sins of humanity are not presented by Paul as being akin to a parking violation, where another might pay a measly fine in our stead.  Rather the author of Romans sees the sins of humanity as a capital offense - "the wages of sin is death".

Killing an innocent in a guilty person's place makes no sense according to any civilized justice system.  Or, to put it in a way we have all heard many times, two wrongs do not make a right.

However, I am wondering if the "substitution" idea can still be moral if we remove the "penal" from in front of it?

The version I will offer here is still one of substitutionary atonement. It maintains that Christ still takes the place of sinners in a sense. But it removes the "penal" part, which is the idea that Christ's sacrifice was to appease God.
Christ submitted himself to death at the hands of sinners. He showed us the wages of our sin by taking them on himself, for sinfulness responds to love in violent ways. Contemplating the death of Christ at the hands of men, who represent the imperfections we all have, convicts our hearts. This leads us to turn from the destructive ways of sin. Therefore Christ has substituted himself for us, showing and bearing the consequences of our sin and convicting our hearts in order to lead us to the more beneficial path of right action. And of course, this right action, leads us to "at-one-ment" with God.

Christ dies for our sins, because of our sinfulness. But not because God needed to be appeased, but rather because there is a natural suffering that comes about when we do not know love.

This interpretation is one along the lines of Ghandi's hunger strikes. By taking this physical burden on himself to protest potential combat between Muslims and Hindus, he convicted the hearts of both sides and, at least for a while, led them to avoid conflict. His was a substitutionary atonement.

Is there a history of this view of atonement in Christianity?

3.  Finally, I am getting more and more familiar with the Christ Myth Theory.   While I still don't see it as the most likely candidate for describing the "historical" Jesus, the Geek has certainly succeeded in convincing me that it is a possibility to be taken seriously.

My question is this - according to the CM Theory, what would have been the catalyst for the formation of the early church?   It makes sense that if there was a person named Jesus, and he was crucified, and his followers believed him to have been raised by God, then this would have led to a reinterpretation of Jesus' past role on earth, a development of a heightened Christology over time, and the formation of a new religion.

If the Christ idea came about from a combination of Gnosticism, other mystery religions, and the notion of Yahweh as a dying and rising God - what was the spark which brought it all together into what would become Christianity?

I love your show.  Thanks for the education and the entertainment, friend!