Monday, April 09, 2007

Modern Religion

This weekend my wife dragged my heathen ass to the grand opening at my in-laws' church. Their new building is the largest venue of its kind in this area. I have been seeing the construction since it began and have been curious how the inside turned out. It proved to be an interesting experience.

Going to Bay Area Fellowship is seriously like walking into a rock concert for Jesus. On a Saturday evening they were able to pack over 3000 people into the church and then repeat that 3 more times the next day. By comparison the average orthodox Christian church is lucky to pull in 350 parishioners on Easter and Christmas.

Bay Area is one of the new breed of churches geared to the MTV generation, catering to the short attention span with a light and sound show worthy of Pink Floyd. The pastor is part comic, part motivational speaker, and just a splash of snake oil salesman, using jokes and props to try and relate 2,000 year old doctrine to Generation X. Has Christianity turned over a new leaf? Could this new, modern Jesus be the enlightened step to freedom for millions of Christians?

I doubt it. During the sermon he said he hoped there were atheists in the audience. He then proceeded to say that to deny Christ one had to be uneducated. His source was the "Testimonium Flavianum" found in "Jewish Antiquities" by Josephus. The problem with using that text with this atheist is the fact that I am indeed educated in Christian history. Josephus was a Jewish historian who, while in Rome, proceeded to write a history of the Jews from the many accounts which he had heard. His history was published around 90 C.E., some 60 years after the crucification of Christ. The original text has long since been lost and the oldest of the copies is debatable. In what we have of the texts Josephus is quoted as saying,
"About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who wrought surprising feats and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Messiah. When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing among us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who had in the first place come to love him did not cease. On the third day he appeared to them restored to life. For the prophets of God had prophesied these and myriads of other marvellous things about him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still up to now, not disappeared." -Antiquities, Josephus, I. H. Feldman Translation
This version is widely regarded as a later Christian Redaction of what is contained in one of the Arabic translations,
"They reported that he had appeared to them after his crucifixion and that he was alive; accordingly, he was perhaps the Messiah concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders."-Antiquities, Josephus, From Agapios' Kitab al-'Unwan
The question is, is Josephus proclaiming Jesus to in fact be the Messiah or simply repeating the rumors which he heard? The Feldman translation comes from manuscripts provided by the Catholic church which for me instantly puts a dubious light on them.

The pastor then went on to speak of the hundreds of witnesses to the risen Christ and their historical record. Yes, their historical record would be a damning bit of evidence for an Atheist. Even one eyewitness account would be pretty moving. Problem is, none of the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses, none of the gnostic texts, and none of the Epistles. We have at best third hand re-tellings of the event and at worst flat out lies.

All of this sounded eerily like the tactics of politicians, telling you something false or dubious in such a matter of fact way that you see it as fact. The sad part is, I guarantee you that every parishioner in that place would have argued that point till they were blue in the face because their pastor said it was truth. The joys of modern evangelical Christianity, giving you all of the ability to bury you head in the sand as old Christianity with all the lights and sounds of MTV. It is enough to make my head hurt.


Aletha said...

Just Fabulous. You have crossed over to the dark side.

Michael J. Clarkson, Jr. said...

Or the dork side, can't tell which... :-)

Vanessa said...

1 and 2 Peter were written by Peter, who was with Christ after he was resurrected